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BACKGROUND: Triple nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor regimens have advantages as first-line antiretroviral therapy (ART), avoiding hepatotoxicity and interactions with anti-tuberculosis therapy, and sparing two drug classes for second-line ART. Concerns exist about virological potency; efficacy has not been assessed in Africa. METHODS: A safety trial comparing nevirapine with abacavir was conducted in two Ugandan Development of Antiretroviral Therapy in Africa (DART) centres: 600 symptomatic antiretroviral-naïve HIV-infected adults with CD4 counts <200 cells/microL were randomized to zidovudine/lamivudine plus abacavir or nevirapine (placebo-controlled to 24-week primary toxicity endpoint, and then open-label). Documented World Health Organization (WHO) stage 4 events were independently reviewed and plasma HIV-1 RNA assayed retrospectively. Exploratory efficacy analyses are intention-to-treat. RESULTS: The median pre-ART CD4 count was 99 cells/microL, and the median pre-ART viral load was 284 600 HIV-1 RNA copies/mL. A total of 563 participants (94%) completed 48 weeks of follow-up, 25 (4%) died and 12 (2%) were lost to follow-up. The randomized drug was substituted in 21 participants (7%) receiving abacavir vs. 34 (11%) receiving nevirapine (P=0.09). At 48 weeks, 62% of participants receiving abacavir vs. 77% of those receiving nevirapine had viral loads <50 copies/mL (P<0.001), and mean CD4 count increases from baseline were +147 vs. +173 cells/microL, respectively (P=0.006). Nine participants (3%) receiving abacavir vs. 16 (5%) receiving nevirapine died [hazard ratio (HR) 0.55; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.24-1.25; P=0.15]; 20 receiving abacavir vs. 32 receiving nevirapine developed new or recurrent WHO 4 events or died (HR=0.60; 95% CI 0.34-1.05; P=0.07) and 48 receiving abacavir vs. 68 receiving nevirapine developed new or recurrent WHO 3 or 4 events or died (HR=0.67; 95% CI 0.46-0.96; P=0.03). Seventy-one participants (24%) receiving abacavir experienced 91 grade 4 adverse events compared with 130 events in 109 participants (36%) on nevirapine (P<0.001). CONCLUSIONS: The clear virological/immunological superiority of nevirapine over abacavir was not reflected in clinical outcomes over 48 weeks. The inability of CD4 cell count/viral load to predict initial clinical treatment efficacy is unexplained and requires further evaluation.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





334 - 344


Adult, Body Weight, CD4 Lymphocyte Count, Dideoxynucleosides, Disease Progression, Double-Blind Method, Drug Therapy, Combination, Female, HIV Infections, HIV-1, Humans, Lamivudine, Male, Medication Adherence, Middle Aged, Nevirapine, RNA, Viral, Recurrence, Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors, Treatment Outcome, Uganda, Viral Load, Zidovudine