New monthly HIV drug could change millions of lives

Monthly HIV DrugCC: Joshua Coleman at Unsplash

Since HIV came into the public’s consciousness in the 1980s, lots of progress has been made. One area where medicine is falling short is the lack of convenience in treating the condition. For most people who have HIV, it’s necessary to take three drugs once a day. However, a new monthly HIV drug has just shown positive results in a Phase III trial.

Why convenience matters when treating HIV

Around 1.1 million people in the United States suffer from the disease. Globally, this figure stands at 36.9 million.

Unlike the monthly HIV drug, current treatment plans depend on patients taking their meds once per day. The vast majority will take three separate drugs to reduce their viral load. By reducing their viral load to near non-existent levels, they support their immune system and reduce their risk of transmission to others.

Although most patients will take their drugs as planned, some may struggle. Studies highlight how those with poor health literacy are less likely to adhere to medication plans. This means if they don’t have a sound understanding of their condition due to lack of support or poor academic attainment, they’re less likely to take drugs daily. It’s important to note that the cited study isn’t specific to HIV.

The ongoing stigma that surrounds HIV is also likely to lower a patient’s medication adherence. Such stigma could arise from poor social support, shame, or economic barriers. A meta-analysis of studies focusing on the association between stigma and poor Anti-Retro Viral (ARV) plan adherence found that stigma is a significant barrier to taking medications.

Arguably, monthly HIV drugs could tackle the problems above. As they require far less commitment, they may not be as challenging for those with poor health literacy to commit to. Additionally, a reduced need to collect prescriptions could overcome some of the stigma-related barriers.

How is the monthly HIV drug different?

Rather than coming in the form of three pills, the monthly HIV drug is an injection. This means patients may visit a suitable medical practitioner to receive it.

The drug that’s currently moving through trials comes from Johnson&Johnson. Like the daily ARV regimen, it suppresses the virus. At present, suppressing the virus as soon as possible after an HIV diagnosis is central to controlling the disease.

Each injection features long-acting cabotegravir and long-acting rilpivirine. Cabotegravir blocks the HIV enzyme, which limits how much the virus can multiply in the body. Rilpivirine acts in the same way, but also interacts with lots of other medications.

What has the monthly HIV drug study found so far?

The latest stage of the monthly HIV drug study was a Phase III clinical trial. At Phase III, human subjects participate so the drug’s efficacy and safety can be tested. Around 1/3 of drugs make it beyond Phase II into Phase III.

The ATLAS and FLAIR trials examining the monthly HIV drug featured 1182 men and women living with the condition. It found that it is as good as, if not better than, the current three-drugs a day regime.

If the monthly HIV drug is approved by the FDA, it could reduce HIV treatments from 365 per year to 12 per year. For those seeking an easier life, this is terrific news!

About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.