In a randomized control trial, Shahin Lockman and colleagues compare nevirapine-based therapy with lopinavir/ritonavir-based therapy for HIV-infected women without previous exposure to antiretroviral treatment.
Nevirapine (NVP) is widely used in antiretroviral treatment (ART) of HIV-1 globally. The primary objective of the AA5208/OCTANE trial was to compare the efficacy of NVP-based versus lopinavir/ritonavir (LPV/r)-based initial ART.
Methods and Findings
In seven African countries (Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), 500 antiretroviral-naïve HIV-infected women with CD4<200 cells/mm3 were enrolled into a two-arm randomized trial to initiate open-label ART with tenofovir (TDF)/emtricitabine (FTC) once/day plus either NVP (n = 249) or LPV/r (n = 251) twice/day, and followed for ≥48 weeks. The primary endpoint was time from randomization to death or confirmed virologic failure ([VF]) (plasma HIV RNA<1 log10 below baseline 12 weeks after treatment initiation, or ≥400 copies/ml at or after 24 weeks), with comparison between treatments based on hazard ratios (HRs) in intention-to-treat analysis. Equivalence of randomized treatments was defined as finding the 95% CI for HR for virological failure or death in the range 0.5 to 2.0. Baseline characteristics were (median): age = 34 years, CD4 = 121 cells/mm3, HIV RNA = 5.2 log10copies/ml. Median follow-up = 118 weeks; 29 (6%) women were lost to follow-up. 42 women (37 VFs, five deaths; 17%) in the NVP and 50 (43 VFs, seven deaths; 20%) in the LPV/r arm reached the primary endpoint (HR 0.85, 95% CI 0.56–1.29). During initial assigned treatment, 14% and 16% of women receiving NVP and LPV/r experienced grade 3/4 signs/symptoms and 26% and 22% experienced grade 3/4 laboratory abnormalities. However, 35 (14%) women discontinued NVP because of adverse events, most in the first 8 weeks, versus none for LPV/r (p<0.001). VF, death, or permanent treatment discontinuation occurred in 80 (32%) of NVP and 54 (22%) of LPV/r arms (HR = 1.7, 95% CI 1.2–2.4), with the difference primarily due to more treatment discontinuation in the NVP arm. 13 (45%) of 29 women tested in the NVP versus six (15%) of 40 in the LPV/r arm had any drug resistance mutation at time of VF.
Initial ART with NVP+TDF/FTC demonstrated equivalent virologic efficacy but higher rates of treatment discontinuation and new drug resistance compared with LPV/r+TDF/FTC in antiretroviral-naïve women with CD4<200 cells/mm3.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
About 34 million people (mostly living in low- or middle-income countries) are currently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV destroys CD4 lymphocytes and other immune cells, leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-infected people died within 10 years of infection. Then, in 1996, antiretroviral therapy (ART)—cocktails of drugs that attack different parts of HIV—became available. For people living in affluent countries, HIV/AIDS became a chronic condition. But, because ART was expensive, for people living in developing countries, HIV/AIDS remained a fatal illness. In 2006, the international community set a target of achieving universal access to ART by 2010 and, although this target has not been reached, by the end of 2010, 6.6 million of the estimated 15 million people in need of ART in developing countries were receiving one of the ART regimens recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its 2010 guidelines.
Why Was This Study Done?
A widely used combination for the initial treatment of HIV-infected people (particularly women) in resource-limited settings is tenofovir and emtricitabine (both nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors; reverse transcriptase is essential for HIV replication) and nevirapine (NVP, a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor). However, little is known about the efficacy of this NVP-based ART combination. Moreover, its efficacy and toxicity has not been compared with regimens containing lopinavir/ritonavir (LPV/r). LPV/r, which inhibits the viral protease that is essential for HIV replication, is available in resource-limited settings but is usually reserved for second-line treatment. LPV/r-based ART is more expensive than NVP-based ART but if it were more effective or better tolerated than NVP-based ART, then first-line treatment with LPV/r-based ART might be cost-effective in resource-limited settings. Conversely, evidence of the clinical equivalence of NVP-based and LPV/r-based ART would provide support for NVP-based ART as an initial therapy. In this randomized equivalence trial, the researchers compare the efficacy and toxicity of NVP-based and LVP/r-based initial therapy for HIV infection among antiretroviral-naïve African women. In a randomized trial, patients are assigned different treatments by the play of chance and followed to compare the effects of these treatments; an equivalence trial asks whether the effects of two treatments are statistically equivalent.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers followed 500 antiretroviral-naïve HIV-infected women with a low CD4 cell count living in seven African countries, half of whom received NVP-based ART and half of whom received LPV/r-based ART, for an average of 118 weeks and recorded the time to virologic failure (the presence of virus in the blood above pre-specified levels) or death among the participants. Forty-two women in the NVP arm reached this primary endpoint (37 virologic failures and five deaths) compared to 50 women in the LPV/r arm (43 virologic failures and seven deaths), a result that indicates equivalent virologic efficacy according to preset statistical criteria. During the initial assigned treatment, similar proportions of women in both treatment arms developed serious drug-related signs and symptoms and laboratory abnormalities. However, whereas 14% of the women in the NVP arm discontinued treatment because of adverse effects, none of the women in the LPV/r arm discontinued treatment. Finally, nearly half of the women tested in the NVP arm but only 15% of the women tested in the LVP/r arm had developed any drug resistance at the time of virologic failure.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, among HIV-infected, treatment-naïve African women, initial NVP-based ART is as effective as LPV/r-based ART in terms of virologic failure and death although more women in the NVP arm discontinued treatment or developed new drug resistance than in the LPV/r arm. Several limitations of this study may affect the accuracy of these findings. In particular, some of the study participants may have been exposed to single-dose NVP during childbirth to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV; in a parallel randomized trial, the researchers found that LPV/r-based ART was superior to NVP-based ART among women with prior exposure to single-dose NVP. Moreover, the duration of the current study means the long-term effects of the two treatments cannot be compared. Nevertheless, these findings support the WHO recommendation of NVP-based ART with careful early toxicity monitoring as an initial affordable and effective HIV treatment regiment in resource-limited settings, until access to better-tolerated and more potent regimens is possible.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001236.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on all aspects of HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment (in several languages)
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including detailed information on HIV treatment and care (in English and Spanish)
WHO provides information about universal access to AIDS treatment (in English, French and Spanish); its 2010 ART guidelines can be downloaded
More information about this trial, the OCTANE trial, is available
MedlinePlus provides detailed information about nevirapine and lopinavir/ritinovir (in English and Spanish)
Patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert; the nonprofit website Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about living with HIV, including stories about taking anti-HIV drugs and the challenges of anti-HIV drugs