Dolutegravir durable with high rates of viral suppression in people who experienced virological failure with older integrase inhibitors

Antiretroviral regimens containing the integrase inhibitor dolutegravir are durable and achieve high rates of viral suppression in people who experienced virological failure with older integrase inhibitors, Italian investigators report in the Journal of Clinical Virology. The “real-world” study involved 89 highly treatment-experienced people enrolled in a drug-resistance database. After 19 months of follow-up, 89% were still taking dolutegravir and all had an undetectable viral load.  

“Since a consistent proportion of patients who receive DTG [dolutegravir] outside clinical trials are failing an INI [integrase inhibitor]-containing regimen, a highly relevant clinical question is the cross-resistance to INI,” comment the authors. “The main result of our study is that in our real life retrospective scenario of triple-class-experienced subjects followed for a median of 18.8 months, only 10 subjects discontinued DTG.”

Clinical trials have shown that dolutegravir is effective against both wild-type and integrase inhibitor-resistant virus. In these studies, the drug performed well in people with previous experience of antiretroviral therapy and also in treatment-naïve individuals. Dolutegravir has a high genetic barrier to resistance.


integrase inhibitors (INI, INSTI)

A class of antiretroviral drugs. Integrase strand transfer inhibitors (INSTIs) block integrase, which is an HIV enzyme that the virus uses to insert its genetic material into a cell that it has infected. Blocking integrase prevents HIV from replicating.

detectable viral load

When viral load is detectable, this indicates that HIV is replicating in the body. If the person is taking HIV treatment but their viral load is detectable, the treatment is not working properly. There may still be a risk of HIV transmission to sexual partners.

virological suppression

Halting of the function or replication of a virus. In HIV, optimal viral suppression is measured as the reduction of viral load (HIV RNA) to undetectable levels and is the goal of antiretroviral therapy.

ribonucleic acid (RNA)

The chemical structure that carries genetic instructions for protein synthesis. Although DNA is the primary genetic material of cells, RNA is the genetic material for some viruses like HIV.



A person who has previously taken treatment for a condition. Treatment-experienced people may have taken several different regimens before and may have a strain of HIV that is resistant to multiple drug classes.

However, little is known about the durability of dolutegravir-containing combinations in people with experience of older integrase inhibitors.

Investigators in Italy therefore retrospectively analysed the durability of dolutegravir-based therapy among a cohort of highly treatment-experienced people. The patients' data were obtained from the Antiviral Response Cohort Analysis database.

All the people had experienced virological failure while taking raltegravir or elvitegravir and had resistance testing at the time of treatment failure. The investigators analysed the virological and patient characteristics associated with the durability of dolutegravir therapy.

After approximately 19 months of follow-up, 79 people (89%) were still taking dolutegravir. The ten people who discontinued the drug did so after a median of three months of therapy.

All of the people remaining on dolutegravir had an undetectable viral load. This compared to a 50% rate of suppression among individuals who stopped taking the drug.

A high proportion of people – including over 40% of individuals with suppression at the end of follow-up – had one or more viral load blips, but these were not associated with treatment outcomes.

Factors associated with a detectable viral load at the end of follow-up were non-B HIV-1 subtype (HR = 5.77; 95% CI, 1.73-19.27, p < 0.0001) and a detectable viral load at the start of dolutegravir therapy (HR = 4.5; 95% CI, 0.90-22.66, p = 0.068), though this second factor fell just short of significance.

Factors associated with increased chances of viral suppression were a nadir CD4 cell count above 200 cells/mm3 (p = 0.038), experience of at least ten previous antiretroviral regimens (p = 0.04) and integrase inhibitor-associated resistance mutations at baseline (p = 0.023).

“In our group of patients who have been exposed to first-generation INIs, treatment with DTG showed long durability in the majority of cases and did not show virological rebound after virological suppression,” conclude the authors. “The bottom line is that subjects infected with non-B HIV-1 subtype and detectable HIV-1 RNA at DTG start had a greater risk of having detectable HIV-1 RNA at the last observation, thus INI-experienced patients could have a potential high risk of not responding to DTG, notwithstanding its favorable genetic barrier.”


Rusconi S et al. Dolutegravir (DTG)-containing regimens after receiving raltegravir (RAL) or elvitegravir (EVG): durability and virological response in a large Italian HIV drug resistance network (ARCA). Journal of Clinical Virology,