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Systematic review supports preferred drugs for HIV in youths



A systematic review of observational studies and clinical trials found dolutegravir and raltegravir to be safe and effective for treating teens and children living with HIV.

Effectiveness was higher across dolutegravir studies, the authors reported. After 12 months of treatment and observation, viral suppression levels were greater than 70% in most studies assessing dolutegravir. Viral suppression with raltegravir after 12 months varied between 42% and 83%.

“Our findings support the use of these two integrase inhibitors as part of WHO-recommended regimens for treating HIV,” said lead study author Claire Townsend, PhD, an epidemiologist and consultant to the World Health Organization HIV department in Geneva. “They were in line with what has been reported in adults and provide reassurance for the continued use of these two drugs in children and adolescents.”

The study was published in the Journal of the International AIDS Society.

Tracking outcomes for WHO guidelines

Integrase inhibitors, including dolutegravir and raltegravir, have become leading first- and second-line treatments in patients with HIV, largely owing to their effectiveness and fewer side effects, compared with other antiretroviral treatments.

Monitoring short- and long-term health outcomes of these widely used drugs is critical, the authors wrote. This is especially the case for dolutegravir, which has recently been approved in pediatric formulations. The review supported the development of the 2021 WHO consolidated HIV guidelines.

Dr. Townsend and colleagues searched the literature and screened trial registries for relevant studies conducted from January 2009 to March 2021. Among more than 4,000 published papers and abstracts, they identified 19 studies that met their review criteria relating to dolutegravir or raltegravir in children or adolescents aged 0-19 years who are living with HIV, including two studies that reported data on both agents.

Data on dolutegravir were extracted from 11 studies that included 2,330 children and adolescents in 1 randomized controlled trial, 1 single-arm trial, and 9 cohort studies. Data on raltegravir were extracted from 10 studies that included 649 children and adolescents in 1 randomized controlled trial, 1 single-arm trial, and 8 cohort studies.

The median follow-up in the dolutegravir studies was 6-36 months. Six studies recruited participants from Europe, three studies were based in sub-Saharan Africa, and two studies included persons from multiple geographic regions.

Across all studies, grade 3/4 adverse events were reported in 0%-50% of cases. Of these adverse events, very few were drug related, and no deaths were attributed to either dolutegravir or raltegravir.

However, Dr. Townsend cautioned that future research is needed to fill in evidence gaps “on longer-term safety and effectiveness of dolutegravir and raltegravir in children and adolescents,” including “research into adverse outcomes such as weight gain, potential metabolic changes, and neuropsychiatric adverse events, which have been reported in adults.”

The researchers noted that the small sample size of many of the studies contributed to variability in the findings and that most studies were observational, providing important real-world data but making their results less robust compared with data from randomized controlled studies with large sample sizes. They also noted that there was a high risk of bias (4 studies) and unclear risk of bias (5 studies) among the 15 observational studies included in their analysis.

“This research is particularly important because it supports the WHO recommendation that dolutegravir, which has a particularly high barrier of resistance to the HIV virus, be synchronized in adults and children as the preferred first-line and second-line treatment against HIV,” said Natella Rakhmanina, MD, PhD, director of HIV Services & Special Immunology at the Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. Dr. Rakhmanina was not associated with the study.

Dr. Rakhmanina agreed that the safety profile of both drugs is “very good.” The lack of serious adverse events was meaningful, she highlighted, because “good tolerability is very important, particularly in children” as it means that drug compliance and viral suppression are achievable.

Two authors reported their authorship on two studies included in the review, as well as grant funding from ViiV Healthcare/GlaxoSmithKline, the marketing authorization holder for dolutegravir.

A version of this article first appeared on

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