Long-acting HIV shot protects women twice as well as daily pills

One long-acting HIV shot every two months protects women from infection nearly twice as well as daily Truvada pills, study finds

  • In a trial of more than 3,200 women, just 0.21% who were randomly assigned to get the shot caught HIV, compared to 1.79% who were on daily Truvada 
  • The injection, called cabotegravir, is given once every two months and reportedly caused fewer side effects compared to Truvada 
  • Dr Anthony Fauci, who made his name in HIV research, called the success of the shot ‘a major, major advance’ 
  • The injection was tested in seven countries in Africa, where it will be particularly helpful to women who are at high risk for HIV and need more prventive options 

An HIV prevention shot once every two months works almost twice as well to protect women from catching HIV from an infected partner compared to daily pills, a new study finds. 

The shot worked so resoundingly well, that the study is being stopped early to speed the process of getting the shot approved so it can be distributed. 

It’s a highly anticipated finding, especially in Africa, where the shot, called cabotegravir, was tested and women often meet opposition from partners about using other preventive measures, like condoms. 

‘This is a major, major advance,’ said Dr Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease doctor at the National Institutes of Health. 

‘I don’t think we can overemphasize the importance of this study.  

After a major trial in seven African countries found that women who got an injections of a preventive medication once every two months were half as likely to contract HIV as women who took daily Truvada pills. Pictured: a nurse (right) speaks to an HIV positive patient in South Africa, where the vaccine called cabotegravir, was tested (AP Photo/Bram Janssen, File)

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.

The results mirror those announced earlier this year from a similar study testing the shots versus the daily pills in gay men.

Cabotegravir is being developed by ViiV Healthcare, which is mostly owned by GlaxoSmithKline, with Pfizer and Shionogi. 

The study was sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and ViiV. The drugs were provided by ViiV and Truvada´s maker, Gilead Sciences.

The shot promises HIV prevention help to young women, ‘those who need it the most,’ Dr Fauci said.

Young women may be twice as likely as men to get HIV in some areas of the world, according to one study leader, Sinead Delany-Moretlwe of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

‘They need discreet options…without having to negotiate with their partners’ to use measures such as condoms, said Deborah Waterhouse, of ViiV.

The study involved more than 3,200 participants in seven African countries who were randomly assigned to get either the shots every two months or daily Truvada pills. 

Independent monitors advised stopping the study after seeing that only 0.21 percent of women receiving the shots caught the AIDS virus versus 1.79% of women on the pills.

There were more side effects, mostly nausea, with the daily pills.

Cabotegravir’s makers are seeking approval from regulators to sell it for this purpose, and Truvada already is widely used.

‘The urgent work now’ is to make all prevention medicines affordable and more widely available, said Mitchell Warren, who heads AVAC, formerly known as the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, a nonprofit focused on prevention efforts that had no role in the study.

Condoms remain widely recommended because they help prevent a host of sexually spread diseases, not just HIV.

‘People need choices for HIV prevention,’ and this gives a new option, Warren said in a statement. 

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