PARIS (AFP) - A two-drug cocktail injected every month or two may be just as effective as a daily pill at keeping the Aids virus under control, said a study on Monday (July 24) that promised relief for millions.
At present, people have no option but to take lifelong, daily doses of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) which keeps the HIV virus under control, but does not kill it.
People who forget to take their medication run the risk of the virus rebounding to make them ill or developing resistance to the drugs they were using - which would require a more expensive replacement.
In an ongoing study, nearly 300 HIV-positive people were given an initial course of daily pills to bring the virus under control.
Once this was achieved, some continued taking oral treatment as maintenance while the rest were shifted onto the prototype, injectable ARV, administered every four or eight weeks.
At 96 weeks, the virus was still subdued in 84 per cent of the pill-taking group, 87 per cent in the four-weekly injectable group and 94 per cent in the eight-weekly group.
The results were published in The Lancet medical journal to coincide with an HIV science conference in Paris of the International Aids Society.
In 2016, there were some 36.7 million people living with HIV of whom 19.5 million had access to ART, according to UNAids.
The United Nations recommends ART for all HIV-positive people.
"The introduction of single-tablet medication represented a leap forward in ART dosing, and long-active anti-retroviral injections may represent the next revolution in HIV therapy by providing an option that circumvents the burden of daily dosing," said study co-author David Margolis of ViiV Healthcare, a pharmaceutical company involved in developing the injectable drug.
"Adherence to medication remains an important challenge in HIV treatment."
Also involved in the study is Janssen Sciences, a company in the Johnson & Johnson group.
Last week, the UN warned that countries must halt the rise of Aids drug resistance to prevent a swell in new infections and deaths and spiralling treatment costs.
Viruses can become resistant to drugs when people take incorrect doses of their prescribed medication. Resistant strains can also be contracted directly from other people.
Some in the trial group experienced mild or moderate pain at the injection site, two of whom to stop getting the shots which contain a mix of cabotegravir and rilpivirine.
Other side effects, including diarrhoea and headaches, were similar in all the groups.
"Trials are ongoing and are needed to confirm the results," the researchers said a statement.
The experiments were conducted in the United States, Germany, Canada, Spain, France and Germany.