Nevirapine/zidovudine/lamivudine has superior immunological and virological responses not reflected in clinical outcomes in a 48-week randomized comparison with abacavir/zidovudine/lamivudine in HIV-infected Ugandan adults with low CD4 cell counts.
Munderi P., Walker AS., Kityo C., Babiker AG., Ssali F., Reid A., Darbyshire JH., Grosskurth H., Mugyenyi P., Gibb DM., Gilks CF., DART/NORA trial teams None.
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.