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The fight against global Aids has been given a shot in the arm after a study showed a new preventative HIV therapy administered via injection six times a year was more successful than a daily pill regimen.
The success of the drug, cabotegravir, was so persuasive that researchers ended their clinical trials early. Researchers believe the success of the injections was at least in part due to the ease of getting six shots a year, versus taking a pill a day, or 365 pills over the course of a year.
The news is being described as a “game changer for women” in the fight against global Aids, reported the New York Times. Apart from Truvada, the daily pill sold by Gilead Sciences, there are currently no other alternative preventative HIV medicine for women.
Descovy, another daily HIV prevention regimen, is prescribed only to cisgender men and transgender women.
Having a successful prevention option for cisgender women is crucial. In 2019, women and girls accounted for half of all HIV infections globally, and adolescent girls in Africa are disproportionately affected by the disease, according to UNAIDS, a United Nations organisation that leads the fight against HIV and Aids.
“If we’re going to get to the end of the epidemic, we have to do something to stem the tide of infection in those women,” Dr Kimberly Smith told the New York Times. Dr Smith is head of research and development at ViiV Healthcare, which manufactures the injection.
“That is why this study is so important. It gives a new, incredibly effective option for women.”
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Conducted by the HIV Prevention Trials Network, an international collaborative funded by the National Institutes of Health, the study compared the injected drug with Truvada in 3,223 participants in 20 sites across seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Of the women who received Truvada, 34 became infected with HIV during the trial, compared with just four of the women receiving the injections. After an interim analysis showed that the long-acting injection was 89 per cent more effective than Truvada, an independent data safety monitoring board recommended that the trial be stopped early.
A previous trial tested the drug in nearly 4,600 cisgender men and transgender women who have sex with men and found it to be 66 per cent more effective than Truvada in that population.
That trial was expected to continue into 2022 but was also stopped in May for similar reasons.