Context: Current guidelines recommend that individuals infected with the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) be treated using combinations of antiretroviral agents to achieve sustained suppression of viral replication as measured by the plasma HIV-1 RNA assay, in the hopes of achieving prolonged remission of the disease. However, until recently, many drug combinations have not led to sustained suppression of HIV-1 RNA.
Objective: To compare the virologic effects of various combinations of nevirapine, didanosine, and zidovudine.
Design: Double-blind, controlled, randomized trial.
Setting: University-affiliated ambulatory research clinics in Italy, the Netherlands, Canada and Australia (INCAS).
Patients: Antiretroviral therapy-naive adults free of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome with CD4 cell counts between 0.20 and 0.60x10(9)/L (200-600/microL).
Intervention: Patients received zidovudine plus nevirapine (plus didanosine placebo), zidovudine plus didanosine (plus nevirapine placebo), or zidovudine plus didanosine plus nevirapine.
Main outcome measure: Plasma HIV-1 RNA.
Results: Of the 153 enrolled patients, 151 were evaluable. At week 8, plasma HIV-1 RNA levels had decreased by log 2.18, 1.55, and 0.90 in the triple drug therapy, zidovudine plus didanosine, and zidovudine plus nevirapine groups, respectively (P<.05). The proportions of patients with plasma HIV-1 RNA levels below 20 copies per milliliter at week 52 were 51%, 12%, and 0% in the triple drug therapy, zidovudine plus didanosine, and zidovudine plus nevirapine groups, respectively (P<.001). Viral amplification was attempted in 59 patients at 6 months. Viral isolation was unsuccessful in 19 (79%) of 24, 10 (53%) of 19, and 5 (31%) of 16 patients in the triple drug therapy, zidovudine plus didanosine, and zidovudine plus nevirapine groups, respectively. Among patients from whom virus could be amplified, resistance to nevirapine was found in all 11 patients receiving zidovudine plus nevirapine and in all 5 patients receiving triple drug therapy. Rates of disease progression or death were 23% (11/47), 25% (13/53), and 12% (6/51) for the zidovudine plus nevirapine, zidovudine plus didanosine, and triple drug therapy groups, respectively (P=.08).
Conclusions: Triple drug therapy with zidovudine, didanosine, and nevirapine led to a substantially greater and sustained decrease in plasma viral load than the 2-drug regimens studied. Our results also suggest that suppression of viral replication, as demonstrated by a decrease in the plasma HIV-1 RNA load below the level of quantitation of the most sensitive test available, may at least forestall the development of resistance.