Background: Adherence is critical for successful topical, vaginally delivered anti-retroviral (ARV)-based HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Quantitating systemic or tissue ARV levels through LC-MS/MS is currently viewed as the most reliable measure of adherence. However, for placebo-controlled trials, this is a high cost analysis that measures adherence only in the drug treatment group. A desirable marker of adherence is one that is measured in both placebo and drug treatment groups using a simple on-site clinical laboratory test, which allows necessary interventions for supporting participant adherence. Our objective was to develop adherence markers for four vaginal placebo products currently used as microbicide delivery systems: gel, film, insert, and intravaginal ring. Excipient and spectroscopy-based approaches were used for preclinical development of the placebo markers and subsequently validated by the CONRAD 135 study. The study collected vaginal swabs collected each day for 1 week post vaginal application of gel, film, or insert in the clinic with or without sex. Intravaginal rings were collected after 1 day, 7, and 30 days of use.
Results: Placebo gel, film, and insert in vaginal swabs were successfully detected by specific excipient colorimetric or probe-based assays for hydroxyethylcellulose, glycerin, and sorbitol respectively, as well as spectroscopy-based prediction models. The range of detection for gel, film, and insert in swabs collected up to 16 h post vaginal application was 70-100% of the total swabs per time point, with some markers showing potential for longer duration. Decreasing residual glycerin levels and increasing bioanalyte penetration of vaginally used intravaginal rings showed significant changes between 1 and 30 days of use.
Conclusions: We demonstrated clinical proof-of-concept that adherence markers for placebo product can be measured using simple, lower cost approaches. Measuring adherence in both placebo and drug arms of a HIV PrEP study would better inform future trial designs.
Keywords: Adherence; HIV; Microbicides; PrEP; Spectroscopy; placebo.