Standard-of-care antiretroviral therapy (ART) for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection uses a combination of drugs, until now considered essential to minimise treatment failure and development of drug resistance. Protease inhibitors (PIs) are potent with a high genetic barrier to resistance and have the potential for use as monotherapy after viral load (VL) suppression achieved on combination therapy. However, longer-term resistance and toxicity risks are uncertain.
To compare the effectiveness, toxicity profile and cost-effectiveness of PI monotherapy with those of standard-of-care triple therapy in a pragmatic long-term clinical trial.
Open-label, parallel-group, randomised controlled trial.
Forty-three HIV clinical centres in the UK NHS.
HIV-positive adults taking standard combination ART with a suppressed VL for ≥ 6 months.
Patients were randomised to maintain ongoing triple therapy (OT) or switch to a strategy of physician-selected ritonavir-boosted PI monotherapy (PI-mono), with prompt return to combination therapy in the event of VL rebound.
Main outcome measures
The primary outcome was reduction of future drug options, defined as new intermediate-/high-level resistance to one or more drugs to which the patient’s virus was considered to be sensitive at trial entry (non-inferiority comparison, 10% margin). Secondary outcomes included confirmed virological rebound, serious drug- or disease-related complications, total grade 3 or 4 adverse events (AEs), neurocognitive function change, cluster of differentiation 4 (CD4) cell count change, change in health-related quality of life, cardiovascular risk change, health-care costs and health economic analysis.
In total, 587 participants were randomised (77% male, 68% white) to OT (n = 291) or PI-mono (n = 296) and followed for a median of 44 months, of whom 2.7% withdrew/were lost to follow-up. One or more episodes of confirmed VL rebound were observed in eight patients (Kaplan–Meier estimate 3.2%) in the OT group and 95 patients (35.0%) in the PI-mono group [absolute risk difference 31.8%, 95% confidence interval (CI) 24.6% to 39.0%; p < 0.001]. PI-mono patients who changed to ART after VL rebound all resuppressed (median 3.5 weeks). The proportions with loss of a future drug option at 3 years were 0.7% in the OT group and 2.1% in the PI-mono group (difference 1.4%, (95% CI –0.4% to 3.4%); non-inferiority demonstrated). There were no significant differences in serious disease complications between groups or in the frequency of grade 3 or 4 clinical AEs (16.8% OT group vs. 22% PI-mono group; absolute risk difference 5.1%, 95% CI –1.3% to 11.5%; p = 0.12). Overall, the PI-mono strategy was shown to be cost-effective compared with OT under most scenarios explored. PI-mono was cost saving because of the large savings in ART drug costs while being no less effective in terms of quality-adjusted life-years in the within-trial analysis and only marginally less effective when extrapolated to lifetime outcomes.
PI monotherapy, with prompt reintroduction of combination therapy for VL rebound, was non-inferior to combination therapy in preserving future treatment options and is an acceptable and cost-effective alternative for long-term management of HIV infection.
This project was funded by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment programme and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 20, No. 21. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.