The latest outcomes of the clinical trial conducted by researchers from the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) raise hope that the world is on the right path to finding a potential cure for the deadly HIV that kills millions globally.
Dr Sinead Delany-Moretlwe, an accomplished and renowned research professor headed the clinical trial known as the HPTN 084 trial. Delany-Moretlwe is based at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa and is the director of research at the Wits Reproductive Health & HIV Institute (Wits RHI).
Researchers said the data from the clinical trial represents a milestone and a breakthrough in the wider global efforts to prevent HIV in women. The major achievement of the trial is that taking an injection every eight weeks was found to be 90% more effective than a daily pill and this could lead to a substantial drop in HIV infections globally.
More than 3 000 women from seven African countries took part in the trial. The countries involved in the trial included Botswana, eSwatini, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe with 57% of them under the age of 25.
The trial involved a comparison between a new injectable preventative drug taken every eight weeks (cabotegravir) and a daily pill also known as (oral tenofovir/emtricitabine) currently used to prevent HIV.
Delaney-Moretlwe said the outcomes of the trial are important for women in Africa where the priority is to significantly lower the HIV incidence. “We know that adherence to a daily pill continues to be challenging, and an effective injectable product such as long-acting CAB is a very important additional HIV prevention option for them. We are grateful to the women who volunteered for this study and the research staff, as this study would not have been possible without their commitment to HIV prevention,” she said.
Vice-Chancellor and Principal Designate of Wits University, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, said Wits has always been a global leader in HIV research and has also contributed immensely in fighting against the pandemic.
“This announcement demonstrates the important role that research entities and research-intensive universities play in transforming society and saving human lives. Universities like Wits continue to generate high-quality, locally-relevant knowledge that match and exceed global standards. Congratulations to the Wits RHI team for leading world-class research from Africa that addresses the burden of disease on the continent – this incredible breakthrough will certainly save the lives of many women living in sub-Saharan Africa, and beyond,” said Professor Vilakazi
Professor Martin Veller, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits University said about the breakthrough: “The remarkably low risk of becoming infected by HIV while on long-acting cabotegravir amongst study participants makes this modality of prophylaxis clinically, very attractive.”
He said the results of the clinical trials confirms that South Africa is able to compete and collaborate with the best in the world, adding “it is research such as this that will contribute to saving and improving the lives of millions of people around the world – and especially in Africa. This outcome makes all the time, hard work and money invested in research efforts truly worthwhile.”
Another medical luminary Professor Helen Rees, who is the executive director of Wits RHI, was also excited about the development. She said: “These results are a milestone for prevention of HIV among women at risk of HIV worldwide and especially for women in sub Saharan Africa. If we are to turn the tide on the HIV epidemic, we will need prevention options that work for women in sub-Saharan Africa. These findings provide great hope and motivation for additional studies to show safety and acceptability in adolescents, pregnant and breastfeeding women.”
The HPTN 084 study is jointly funded through a partnership involving NIAID, NIMH the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and ViiV Healthcare. Study drugs are provided by ViiV Healthcare and Gilead Sciences, Inc.