What do we know about injectable HIV medication?

Making HIV treatment easier to access by people who need it most is key to ending the HIV pandemic. A relatively new approach that has shown promise is injectable HIV medication. Prior to this, therapy has been a matter of taking pills daily to keep HIV levels down. 

At the moment, two drugs used in combination are the most likely candidates for this new treatment approach. They are cabotegravir, which is an integrase inhibitor and rilpivirine, from the class of non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs).

For the purpose of this article, we are discussing injectables used for the management of HIV (antiretroviral therapy – ART), and not for the prevention of infection (PrEP).

Is this used for starting or changing treatment?

In the development of this treatment regimen, two major trials were conducted. The  ATLAS study recruited people presently on treatment with conventional therapy, while the FLAIR study evaluated starting people on therapy with a combination of cabotegravir and rilpivirine. In both cases, the injectable showed equivalent results in keeping the levels of HIV in the body low when compared with the oral regimen. Potentially, it could be used both for starting and changing therapy by people living with HIV.

Is it presently available?

At the moment, the injectable combination is only available in Canada as an approved treatment option. In other countries, there has not yet been authorisation to use this in managing HIV infection. However, early trials have shown that this therapy option is largely safe and effective. These are two very important factors that are necessary for a drug to be approved for human use.

Glossary

therapy

Any form of treatment. Drugs, radiation, and psychiatric counselling are forms of therapy. 

long-acting

In pharmacology, a medication which maintains its effects over a long period of time, such as an injection or implant.

trial

A clinical trial is a research study that evaluates a treatment or intervention with human volunteers, in order to answer specific questions about its safety, efficacy and medical effects.

effectiveness

How well something works (in real life conditions). See also 'efficacy'.

regimen

A combination of medications and the way it is taken.

How safe is it?

In the two trials conducted, there were no serious causes for concern as regards safety. The most common reactions were pain at the site of injection and minor irritations. These are common side effects of many injectable drugs.

How often will I need to take it?

The main idea behind the development of the injectable was to have people take them once a month. This will reduce the number of days treatments are taken from the present standard of 365 days to just 12 days a year. A potential concern is that for each treatment day, there has to be a visit to a healthcare professional, making this unattractive for some people.

Another study, the ATLAS-2M study showed the potential of administering the drug every two months. It was still effective at reducing viral load.

If you like to read more information, you can find useful links below.

Long-acting injectables might be administered every two months

Long-acting injectable treatment maintains viral suppression

Long-acting HIV treatment news archive page

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