The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Apretude (cabotegravir extended-release injectable suspension) for use in at-risk adults and adolescents weighing at least 35 kilograms (77 pounds) for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to reduce the risk of sexually acquired HIV. Apretude is given first as two initiation injections administered one month apart, and then every two months thereafter. Patients can either start their treatment with Apretude or take oral cabotegravir (Vocabria) for four weeks to assess how well they tolerate the drug.
“Today’s approval adds an important tool in the effort to end the HIV epidemic by providing the first option to prevent HIV that does not involve taking a daily pill,” said Debra Birnkrant, M.D., director of the Division of Antivirals in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “This injection, given every two months, will be critical to addressing the HIV epidemic in the U.S., including helping high-risk individuals and certain groups where adherence to daily medication has been a major challenge or not a realistic option.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, notable gains have been made in increasing PrEP use for HIV prevention in the U.S. and preliminary data show that in 2020, about 25% of the 1.2 million people for whom PrEP is recommended were prescribed it, compared to only about 3% in 2015. However, there remains significant room for improvement. PrEP requires high levels of adherence to be effective and certain high-risk individuals and groups, such as young men who have sex with men, are less likely to adhere to daily medication. Other interpersonal factors, such as substance use disorders, depression, poverty and efforts to conceal medication also can impact adherence. It is hoped that the availability of a long-acting injectable PrEP option will increase PrEP uptake and adherence in these groups.
The safety and efficacy of Apretude to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV were evaluated in two randomized, double-blind trials that compared Apretude to Truvada, a once daily oral medication for HIV PrEP. Trial 1 included HIV-uninfected men and transgender women who have sex with men and have high-risk behavior for HIV infection. Trial 2 included uninfected cisgender women at risk of acquiring HIV.
Participants who took Apretude started the trial with cabotegravir (oral, 30 mg tablet) and a placebo daily for up to five weeks, followed by Apretude 600mg injection at months one and two, then every two months thereafter and a daily placebo tablet.
Participants who took Truvada started the trial taking oral Truvada and placebo daily for up to five weeks, followed by oral Truvada daily and placebo intramuscular injection at months one and two and every two months thereafter.
In Trial 1, 4,566 cisgender men and transgender women who have sex with men received either Apretude or Truvada. The trial measured the rate of HIV infections among trial participants taking daily cabotegravir followed by Apretude injections every two months compared to daily oral Truvada. The trial showed participants who took Apretude had 69% less risk of getting infected with HIV when compared to participants who took Truvada.
In Trial 2, 3,224 cisgender women received either Apretude or Truvada. The trial measured the rate of HIV infections in participants who took oral cabotegravir and injections of Apretude compared to those who took Truvada orally. The trial showed participants who took Apretude had 90% less risk of getting infected with HIV when compared to participants who took Truvada.
Side effects occurring more frequently in participants who received Apretude compared to participants who received Truvada in either trial include injection site reactions, headache, pyrexia (fever), fatigue, back pain, myalgia and rash.
Apretude includes a boxed warning to not use the drug unless a negative HIV test is confirmed. It must only be prescribed to individuals confirmed to be HIV-negative immediately prior to starting the drug and before each injection to reduce the risk of developing drug resistance. Drug-resistant HIV variants have been identified in people with undiagnosed HIV when they use Apretude for HIV PrEeP. Individuals who become infected with HIV while receiving Apretude for PrEP must transition to a complete HIV treatment regimen. The drug labeling also includes warnings and precautions regarding hypersensitivity reactions, hepatotoxicity (liver damage) and depressive disorders.
Timothy Brown’s case, published in 2009, ignited the HIV-cure research field, which has seen soaring financial investment since.
In 2019, researchers announced two new cases of HIV remission following treatments that mirrored what Brown received. These included London resident Adam Castillejo, who had Hodgkin lymphoma, and a man in Düsseldorf, Germany, who had AML.
More than three years have passed since these two men have been off of HIV treatment with no viral rebound. Consequently, the authors of each of their case studies — University of Cambridge’s Ravindra K. Gupta and Dr. Björn Jensen of Düsseldorf University Hospital — each recently told NBC News their respective patient was “almost definitely” cured of the virus.
Since 2020, scientists have also announced the cases of two women whose own immune systems have apparently cured them of HIV. They are among the approximately 1 in 200 people with HIV known as “elite controllers,” whose immune systems can greatly suppress viral replication without medication. In their cases, their bodies went even further and apparently destroyed all functional virus.