Researchers are stopping a study early after finding that a shot of an experimental medicine every two months worked better than daily pills to help prevent women from contracting HIV from an infected sexual partner.
The news is a boon for AIDS prevention efforts – especially in Africa, where the study took place and where women have few discreet ways of protecting themselves from infection.
Results so far suggest that the drug, cabotegravir, was 89 percent more effective at preventing HIV infection than Truvada pills, although both reduce that risk.
“These results are hugely significant. UNAIDS has long been calling for additional, acceptable and effective HIV prevention options for women, and this could be a real game-changer,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “If donors and countries invest in rolling out access of injectable PrEP to women at higher risk of HIV, new infections could be dramatically reduced.”
The study results are important and timely as more methods to prevent HIV among women at higher risk of HIV are urgently needed, including methods that do not depend on daily or near-daily pill-taking, condom use or abstention from sex.
The development of alternative methods to prevent HIV, and more adherence-friendly schedules than are currently available, will increase the HIV prevention choices and acceptability for women and reduce new HIV infections.
Cabotegravir is being developed by ViiV Healthcare, which is mostly owned by GlaxoSmithKline, with Pfizer Inc and Shionogi Limited.
The study was sponsored by the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and ViiV. The drugs were provided by ViiV and Truvada’s maker, Gilead Sciences.
The trial enrolled over 3200 women aged between 18 and 45 years who were at higher risk of acquiring HIV in Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Eswatini, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
The trial was halted early on the recommendation of the Data and Safety Monitoring Board due to clear statistical evidence showing that the injectable medicine is more effective than a daily pill.
The injection is said to be readily available for global distribution and use in early 2022.