Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (Viread) is an antiviral drug that is approved for the treatment of HIV infection. It is able to reduce the amount of HIV in the blood, help prevent or reverse damage to the immune system and reduce the risk of AIDS-related illnesses. It is also a treatment for hepatitis B.
Tenofovir belongs to the nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NtRTI) class of drugs. Like the nucleoside analogue reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), NtRTIs inhibit an enzyme called reverse transcriptase, which is essential to the process of viral replication.
There are now two formulations of tenofovir, each one available in several combination products. The original formulation is known as tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) and is marketed as Viread, as a generic product and in fixed-dose combination tablets.
The newer formulation is known as tenofovir alafenamide (TAF) and is available in several fixed-dose combination tablets. See Tenofovir alafenamide – detailed information for further details of this formulation.
Both TDF and TAF were developed by Gilead Sciences Inc.
TDF is available in several fixed-dose combination tablets:
- A tablet containing 200mg emtricitabine and 300mg TDF. It may be marketed under the name Truvada, but generic versions are also available. This combination has also been approved for use as pre-exposure prophylaxis for prevention of HIV infection. See Emtricitabine/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (Truvada) – detailed information for further information.
- A tablet containing 600mg efavirenz, 200mg emtricitabine, and 300mg TDF. It may be marketed under the name Atripla, but generic versions are also available. See Efavirenz/emtricitabine/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (Atripla) – detailed information for further information.
- Eviplera is a fixed-dose tablet combining 25mg rilpivirine, 200mg emtricitabine, and 245mg TDF. See Eviplera for further information.
- Stribild is a fixed-dose combination tablet containing 150mg of elvitegravir, 150mg of cobicistat, 200mg of emtricitabine and 245mg of TDF. See Stribild – detailed information for further information.
- Delstrigo is a fixed-dose combination tablet containing 100mg of doravirine, 300mg of lamivudine and 245mg of TDF. See Delstrigo for further information.
TDF is an effective antiviral agent that can reduce HIV viral load.
It was approved on the basis of the results of Study 903, in which over 600 people who had not previously used antiretroviral therapy were randomised to receive TDF or stavudine, plus lamivudine and efavirenz. Intent-to-treat analysis showed that both arms had similar virological outcomes, with 76% of people in the tenofovir arm achieving viral load below 50 copies/ml as compared to 80% in the stavudine arm. Equivalence was also demonstrated at weeks 96 and 144. At week 144, the mean increase in CD4 cell count was 263 cells/mm3 in the tenofovir arm and 283 cells/mm3 in the stavudine arm. (Gallant)
TDF has also been tested for first-line use in combination with emtricitabine. See Emtricitabine/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (Truvada) – detailed information for further details.
Several intensification studies have shown that adding TDF to an existing regimen can provide benefit in treatment-experienced people with detectable viral load. In Study 907, 550 treatment-experienced people with detectable viral load were randomised to add TDF or placebo to their treatment regimen. In the tenofovir arm, 22% reached viral load below 50 copies/ml after 24 weeks, compared to 1% in the placebo group. After one year, the average viral load reduction was 0.57 log10 in the tenofovir arm. (Squires, 2003)
Tenofovir is also active against hepatitis B and is recommended as a component of HIV treatment for anyone who is co-infected with hepatitis B.
The standard dose of TDF when not dosed in a combination tablet is one 200mg tablet once a day, taken with or without food.
Common side effects of TDF are:
- diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, feeling bloated, flatulence
- dizziness, feeling weak, headache
- decreases in phosphate in the blood, increases in liver enzymes.
Reduced kidney function or acute kidney toxicity are rare side effects of TDF. Fanconi syndrome, in which the small tubes in the kidneys that absorb electrolytes and minerals become damaged, is a rare side effect. Observational cohort studies have confirmed that acute renal toxicity is rare, affecting only around 1 to 4% of patients. (Scott) (Padilla)
Reduced kidney function, measured by elevations in creatinine levels, or reduced glomerular filtration rate, has been observed in several large studies of people taking TDF. (Harris; Kirk) But the clinical implications are uncertain; a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies concluded that people taking TDF did not have an increased risk of chronic kidney disease or end-stage renal failure requiring dialysis. (Cooper)
More detailed analyses have concluded that TDF-associated kidney toxicity is more common in people who have pre-existing renal insufficiency or who are also taking other drugs that can damage the kidneys. (Izzedine) (El Sahly) (Moreno)
Combining TDF with the anti-HIV drugs ritonavir (Norvir), ritonavir-boosted lopinavir (Kaletra) atazanavir (Reyataz) or didanosine (Videx / VidexEC) may also be a risk factor for kidney damage. (Zimmerman)
Reports have suggested that TDF-related kidney impairment is reversible, with renal function returning to normal soon after TDF therapy is stopped.
Although kidney damage is now regarded as a rare side effect of TDF, anyone on TDF who begins to experience symptoms of extreme thirst, frequent urination, confusion, or muscular weakness should report these symptoms to their doctor immediately.
Experts have emphasised the importance of regular monitoring of blood levels of creatinine and electrolytes in patients receiving TDF.
TDF use as HIV treatment or pre-exposure prophylaxis has been associated with reduced bone mineral density. A systematic review and meta-analysis found that TDF was associated with greater bone mineral loss when compared to other drugs and this effect was more pronounced when used as HIV treatment than as PrEP. Nonetheless, TDF treatment was not associated with a higher incidence of osteoporosis or fracture. (Baranek)
However, another systematic review and meta-analysis, looking at cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of antiretroviral treatment, found that treatment with TDF was not associated with an increased risk of reduced bone mineral density or osteopenia/osteoporosis. Low bone mineral density was associated with low CD4 cell count and established risk factors for reduced bone mineral density including low body mass and older age. (Goh)
The newer formulation of the drug, tenofovir alafenamide (TAF) was developed, in part, to address concerns about kidney and bone health. Studies have shown consistently that people taking TAF had less reduction in kidney function or bone density loss than people taking TDF. It is unclear if these reductions in laboratory measurements of kidney function and bone density will translate into long-term reductions in kidney damage or fewer fractures. See Tenofovir alafenamide – detailed information.
The development of resistance to tenofovir after treatment failure is rare. Tenofovir can be recycled in second-line treatment after failure of first-line treatment if the K65R reverse transcriptase mutation is not present. The K65R mutation causes resistance to TDF and cross-resistance to lamivudine and abacavir. (Brenner)
Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) should not be used with the following drugs:
- tenofovir alafenamide
- adefovir dipivoxil
If TDF is used at the same time as other medicines that are known to cause kidney toxicity, there may be an increased risk of kidney side effects. Weekly monitoring of kidney functioning is advisable if use of the following drugs cannot be avoided:
- amphotericin B
- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Regular monitoring of kidney function should take place when TDF/emtricitabine is used in combination with a boosted protease inhibitor or with direct-acting antiviral treatment for hepatitis C, owing to the potential for these agents to boost levels of tenofovir.
An analysis of data submitted to the Antiretroviral Pregnancy Registry found no indication that TDF (Viread) use by HIV-positive pregnant women, either during the first trimester or later in pregnancy, was associated with an increased risk of birth defects. The registry collects reports from healthcare providers worldwide about adverse outcomes amongst infants born to women taking anti-HIV drugs during pregnancy. (Squires, 2009)
Three systematic reviews found no evidence of an increased risk of adverse birth outcomes, side-effects or congenital abnormalities as a result of exposure to TDF during pregnancy. (Nachega; Wang; Mofenson) The British HIV Association recommends the use of TDF as a preferred option for antiretroviral treatment during pregnancy in combination with other HIV drugs.
Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate is approved for use in children aged 12 years and over. Reduced strength tablets are available for 6-12 year olds and granules for 2-12 year olds.
Gallant JE et al. Efficacy and safety of tenofovir DF vs. stavudine in combination therapy in antiretroviral-naive patients. A 3-year randomized trial. JAMA, 292: 191-201, 2004. You can read more about this study in our news report.
Scott JD et al. Retrospective review of the use of tenofovir DF in 2 clinical practices. 15th International AIDS Conference, Bangkok, abstract TuPeB4633, 2004. You can read more about this study in our news report.
Squires K et al. Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate in nucleoside-resistant HIV-1 infection: a randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, 139: 313-320, 2003.
Padilla S et al. Low frequency of renal function impairment during one-year of therapy with tenofovir-containing regimens in the real-world: a case-control study. AIDS Patient Care STDs, 19: 421-424, 2005.
Harris M et al. Increases in creatinine during therapy with tenofovir DF. Second International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment, Paris, abstract 55, 2003. You can read more about this study in our news report.
Kirk O et al. Chronic kidney disease and exposure to ART in a large cohort with long-term follow-up: the EuroSIDA study. 17th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, San Francisco, abstract 107LB, 2010. You can read more about this study in our news report.
Cooper RD et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis: renal safety of tenofovir disoproxil fumarate in HIV-infected patients. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 51: 496-505, 2010. You can read more about this study in our news report.
Izzedine H et al. Renal safety of tenofovir in HIV treatment-experienced patients. AIDS, 18: 1074-1075, 2004. You can read more about this study in our news report.
El Sahly HM et al. Serum creatinine changes in HIV-seropositive patients receiving tenofovir. AIDS, 20: 786-787, 2006.
Moreno S et al. Renal safety of tenofovir disoproxil fumarate in HIV-1 treatment-experienced patients with adverse events related to prior NRTI use: data from prospective, observational, multicentre study. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 42: 385-387, 2006.
Zimmermann AE et al. Tenofovir-associated acute and chronic kidney disease: a case of multiple drug interactions. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 42: 283-290, 2006. You can read more about this study in our news report.
Baranek B et al. The effect of tenofovir disoproxil fumarate on bone mineral density: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Antiviral Therapy, 25: 21-32, 2020.
Goh S et al. Reduced bone mineral density in human immunodeficiency virus-infected individuals: a meta-analysis of its prevalence and risk factors. Osteoporosis International, 29: 595-613, 2018.
Brenner BG. The K65R mutation in HIV-1 reverse transcriptase: genetic barriers, resistance profile and clinical implications. HIV Therapy, 3: 583–59, 2009.
Squires K et al. Tenofovir-DF (TDF)-containing antiretroviral (ARV) regimens for treatment of HIV in pregnancy: findings from the Antiretroviral Pregnancy Registry. 49th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, San Francisco, abstract H-917, 2009. You can read more about this study in our news report.
Nachega JB et al. Safety of tenofovir disoproxil fumarate–based antiretroviral therapy regimens in pregnancy for HIV-infected women and their infants: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, AIDS, 76: 1–12, 2017.
Wang L et al. Safety of tenofovir during pregnancy for the mother and fetus: a systematic review. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 57: 1773–1781, 2013.
Mofenson LM. Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate safety for women and their infants during pregnancy and breastfeeding. AIDS, 31: 213–232, 2017.