Preliminary testing of two long-acting injectable drugs indicates it might be possible to keep HIV at bay indefinitely with injections every month or two. Johnson & Johnson and partner ViiV Healthcare, which specializes in HIV drugs, on Tuesday announced results from the first 32 weeks of the planned 96-week study, which combines one drug from each company. Significant additional testing is needed, but the combination treatment would be a first if approved and could eventually be a huge advance over a disease once almost universally fatal.
The 309 patients tested first all had prior treatment with daily pills that reduced the HIV virus to undetectable levels in their blood. About 95% of those who then got the experimental injections had the bloodborne virus kept in check over the 32 weeks, versus 91% in a comparison group taking three pills each day. The two groups continue to receive medication and periodic testing of their blood. HIV patients typically take a combination of three medicines every day, often in combination pills. That can keep them relatively healthy for many years, and some HIV patients infected long ago are now senior citizens. However, not adhering to that strict schedule can result in the HIV virus coming back and growing resistant to the treatment. "Having longer-acting drugs ... goes a long way in relieving a burden on patients," says one expert.