A single CD4 test with 250 cells/mm3 threshold predicts viral suppression in HIV-infected adults failing first-line therapy by clinical criteria.
Gilks CF., Walker AS., Munderi P., Kityo C., Reid A., Katabira E., Goodall RL., Grosskurth H., Mugyenyi P., Hakim J., Gibb DM., DART Virology Group and Trial Team None.
BACKGROUND: In low-income countries, viral load (VL) monitoring of antiretroviral therapy (ART) is rarely available in the public sector for HIV-infected adults or children. Using clinical failure alone to identify first-line ART failure and trigger regimen switch may result in unnecessary use of costly second-line therapy. Our objective was to identify CD4 threshold values to confirm clinically-determined ART failure when VL is unavailable. METHODS: 3316 HIV-infected Ugandan/Zimbabwean adults were randomised to first-line ART with Clinically-Driven (CDM, CD4s measured but blinded) or routine Laboratory and Clinical Monitoring (LCM, 12-weekly CD4s) in the DART trial. CD4 at switch and ART failure criteria (new/recurrent WHO 4, single/multiple WHO 3 event; LCM: CD4<100 cells/mm(3)) were reviewed in 361 LCM, 314 CDM participants who switched over median 5 years follow-up. Retrospective VLs were available in 368 (55%) participants. RESULTS: Overall, 265/361 (73%) LCM participants failed with CD4<100 cells/mm(3); only 7 (2%) switched with CD4≥250 cells/mm(3), four switches triggered by WHO events. Without CD4 monitoring, 207/314 (66%) CDM participants failed with WHO 4 events, and 77(25%)/30(10%) with single/multiple WHO 3 events. Failure/switching with single WHO 3 events was more likely with CD4≥250 cells/mm(3) (28/77; 36%) (p = 0.0002). CD4 monitoring reduced switching with viral suppression: 23/187 (12%) LCM versus 49/181 (27%) CDM had VL<400 copies/ml at failure/switch (p<0.0001). Amongst CDM participants with CD4<250 cells/mm(3) only 11/133 (8%) had VL<400 copies/ml, compared with 38/48 (79%) with CD4≥250 cells/mm(3) (p<0.0001). CONCLUSION: Multiple, but not single, WHO 3 events predicted first-line ART failure. A CD4 threshold 'tiebreaker' of ≥250 cells/mm(3) for clinically-monitored patients failing first-line could identify ∼80% with VL<400 copies/ml, who are unlikely to benefit from second-line. Targeting CD4s to single WHO stage 3 'clinical failures' would particularly avoid premature, costly switch to second-line ART.