Skip to main content
Move the World.
hiv prevention

A new study sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) — the agency under the aegis of America's favorite scientist, Anthony Fauci — shows promising results for an injectable HIV drug that can provide longer-acting HIV prevention than the daily prevention pill, Science reports. The drug isn't a vaccine, but it's getting closer to working like one.

Having healthy people take antiretroviral HIV drugs before they are exposed to HIV is a technique known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Truvada, a pill combining two different medicines that whipsaw the virus, has proven extremely effective in HIV prevention — when it is taken exactly as directed. But the therapy has a drawback: it's a daily pill.

It is not always possible to take a pill every day, and people are never perfect at taking any medicine, so the hunt has been on for a longer-acting form of HIV prevention. The new injectable drug, called cabotegravir, looks like it may be able to do just that.

"With cabotegravir lasting at least a couple of months, we're moving in the direction of providing people with some of the benefits of a vaccine."

Myron Cohen

"With cabotegravir lasting at least a couple of months, we're moving in the direction of providing people with some of the benefits of a vaccine," Myron Cohen told Science. Cohen is co-principal investigator of the NIAID's HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN), which tests non-vaccine forms of HIV prevention.

The study began in 2016, enrolling 4,500 subjects at high-risk of contracting HIV — particularly, men who have sex with men and transgender women — throughout the Americas, South Africa, and Southeast Asia. The study tested Truvada, the daily pill, against groups of volunteers who either received a cabotegravir injections every eight weeks or a placebo pill or shots.

When HPTN looked at the data in late April of this year, there had been 12 infections among the cabotegravir cohort and 38 in those who received Truvada.

According to Science, studies show that people who become infected after being prescribed Truvada often had stopped taking their daily pills. The long-acting injection may increase the number of people remaining on HIV prevention therapy by making it simpler to stay on top of it.

"It's really exciting," Jared Baeten told Science. Baten is an epidemiologist at the University of Washington and was not involved in the study. "It gives another option for people who can't or don't want to take daily pills."

The study did not prove that cabotegravir was more effective than Truvada. Discovering which form of HIV prevention was more effective was the study's original goal, but that changed with the arrival of another vicious virus — SARS-CoV-2.

The pandemic caused numerous study sites to close, so the HPTN team moved up the endpoint of the study to make sure the data was not interrupted. The study did not collect enough data to prove whether the shot was a superior form of HIV prevention, but their results were enough to show that it was, at least, no worse than the pill.

Once the researchers believed it cleared that bar, they recommended all participants, including those in the placebo control groups, be offered the injections. Once a therapy is shown to be effective, it is considered unethical to continue testing it against placebos.

The 12 infections among the cabotegravir group will now need to be examined to understand why it didn't work for them. Possible theories include the participants' weight — a lower body mass index may cause the shot to be eliminated more quickly from the body — or they perhaps became infected early in the study, before they had enough of the drug in their system to protect them.

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected]

Up Next

Medical Breakthroughs
New HIV Vaccine Gives Monkeys Longer-Lasting Protection
HIV Vaccine
Medical Breakthroughs
New HIV Vaccine Gives Monkeys Longer-Lasting Protection
Scientists have created an HIV vaccine that triggers two types of immune response, providing monkeys with longer-lasting protection from infection.

Scientists have created an HIV vaccine that triggers two types of immune response, providing monkeys with longer-lasting protection from infection.

Inventions
Finally! A Smart Toilet Offers Fecal Testing for the Masses
fecal testing
Inventions
Finally! A Smart Toilet Offers Fecal Testing for the Masses
Fecal testing can reveal a surprising amount of medical data. Israeli startup OutSense wants to do so from your home.

Fecal testing can reveal a surprising amount of medical data. Israeli startup OutSense wants to do so from your home.

Genetics
The Murder Hornet’s Genome May Help Stop the Invasion
asian giant hornet
Genetics
The Murder Hornet’s Genome May Help Stop the Invasion
The Asian giant hornet has invaded the Pacific Northwest. Researchers hope a map of the murder hornet’s genome can help their hunt for them.

The Asian giant hornet has invaded the Pacific Northwest. Researchers hope a map of the murder hornet’s genome can help their hunt for them.

The Future Explored
How to Mass Produce Your Own Organs
How to Mass Produce Your Own Organs
The Future Explored
How to Mass Produce Your Own Organs
Bioprinting could be the next frontier of personalized medicine.

Bioprinting could be the next frontier of personalized medicine.

Emergency Response
Real-Time Data Can Save Lives in a Disaster
emergency response
Emergency Response
Real-Time Data Can Save Lives in a Disaster
Researchers are working on new algorithms that could provide emergency response managers with real-time data to save more lives.

Researchers are working on new algorithms that could provide emergency response managers with real-time data to save more lives.

Superhuman
How 3D-Printing Is Revolutionizing Heart Surgery
How 3D-Printing Is Revolutionizing Heart Surgery
Watch Now
Superhuman
How 3D-Printing Is Revolutionizing Heart Surgery
When a young boy was facing a complicated and dangerous heart operation, his doctors created an exact model of his heart to plan the surgery. And it probably saved his life.
Watch Now

Joseph had one of the most complicated heart conditions his doctors had ever seen. He faced a long and dangerous operation or a heart transplant. Without either, he wouldn't survive. Opting for surgery, Dr. Petros Anagnostopoulos at the American Family Children's Hospital prepped like few have ever done. He and his team 3D-printed a copy of Joseph's heart that they could explore and understand. It was another step forward...

Coded
Nico Sell on Recruiting Hackers for Good
Nico Sell on Recruiting Hackers for Good
Watch Now
Coded
Nico Sell on Recruiting Hackers for Good
Nico Sell, founder and chairman of the Wickr Foundation, on teaching kids how to hack and encouraging them to use their new-found talents for good.
Watch Now

People often have a bad perception of hackers, conjuring up images of either 20-somethings in their parents’ basement or sophisticated criminals responsible for massive data breaches. Nico Sell, founder and chairman of the Wickr Foundation, wants to change that. She thinks not only are hackers some of the smartest, most creative people around, but also that hacking will prove to be the most powerful tool for our...