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HIV Milestone: An Every-Other-Month Shot Blocks the Virus

Injectable HIV drug combination shows promise in clinical trial

A long-acting shot to suppress the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) worked as well as a combination of three daily pills, a study from GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson found. If borne out in larger trials, such a regimen could revolutionize treatment of the deadly virus.

According to Bloomberg, patients in the trial got injections of two drugs, rilpivirine and cabotegravir, every four or eight weeks, while another group got a combination of daily pills including an oral version of cabotegravir. The injections, which could be given once a month or every other month, were as effective as the pills, Johnson & Johnson said.

“Going from many pills a day — like 10, 20 pills a day — to now one pill, to now one injection every two months is I think a huge medical technical achievement," Paul Stoffels, Johnson & Johnson’s chairman of pharmaceuticals, said in a conference call with reporters. 

While there is no cure for HIV, the virus is now subdued with a once-daily pill such as Gilead Sciences’ Atripla. A monthly or every-other-month injection could further alter treatment of the disease, making more patients more likely to stick to the drug and helping them keep a regular amount of virus-suppressing medicine in their system.

There is still work to be done to improve the experimental injection. The drug needs to be refrigerated and requires too great a dose to be given in personally-injected shots right now, Stoffels said.

Rilpivirine is from Johnson & Johnson, while cabotegravir is being developed by ViiV Healthcare, a joint venture of Glaxo, Pfizer, and Shionogi.

Stoffels said Johnson & Johnson hoped to get the product to market “significantly before 2020,” and aimed to have it sold globally. “It’s far too early to say anything about the pricing of this but, as always, I think we have been responsible pricing in this area, so that is for later,” he said.

In the trial, patients getting the injection every four weeks had viral suppression rates of 94%, and patients dosed every eight weeks had suppression rates of 95%. That compared with a rate of 91% in patients taking the daily pills.

Five percent of those on the four-week dose stopped taking the drug because of negative side effects, more than the 2% among those on the eight-week dose and 2% in those on the pills. The most common negative side effect reported by patients was pain at the site of the injection.

Source: Bloomberg, November 4, 2015.

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