CROI Round-Up; Post-Conference Webinar Series

February 29, 2016

News last week from the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Boston was dominated by new efficacy data from two vaginal ring trials that have implications for HIV prevention for women. Our take on it is here, along with a special page with more background than we could squeeze into a blog post. But, the CROI buzz wasn’t all about vaginal rings, and this update provides some ways to hear more about what happened last week and what it all means.

Post-CROI Webinar Series

We will be convening a series of post-CROI webinars covering a range of topics over the next couple of months. The first webinar in our series explored the ring results with advocates and researchers. Slides, audio and the Flash animation of the webinar are available here. And stay tuned for details about the additional webinars in the series!

In-Depth Analysis

In addition to lots of media reports and publications, our colleagues at NAM/aidsmap, The Body and NATAP all provided in-depth coverage of the myriad studies presented in oral abstract sessions, posters and more. Check out the hyperlinks above for comprehensive coverage.

CROI Program and Webcast

CROI provides a number of ways to review what happened in Boston: check out the full program; taped playbacks of press conferences; webcasts of all sessions; and electronic posters will be available a week after the conference. There was a wealth of information on a wide range of topics, but here is a selection of sessions and presentations you might want to explore:

  • Lifetime HIV risk in the US: New data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) projected that 1 in 2 black gay men could be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. That number is 1 in 4 for Latino gay men and 1 in 49 for African American women. The figures for white men and women are far lower. These data highlight the ways that race impacts access to healthcare at every point in the treatment cascade. They suggest an urgent need to provide prevention including PrEP at a wider scale and with messages and programs that are community-designed and owned. They also provide another opportunity to examine the ways that alarming statistics do and do not advance a structural analysis of the problems and solutions to public health issues. As one article highlighted—individual risk calculations can lay the burden on individuals to change behavior when the drivers of risk are systemic, embedded and often out of individual control.
  • PrEP in the Real-er World: There was a lot of data on oral PrEP that, as expected, added layers to understanding of what the strategy is, and what it can and cannot do. It started with a presentation by Keith Green (University of Chicago) on Engaging Young Men of Color in Community HIV Prevention Studies and later Darrell Wheeler (SUNY Albany) presented an important PrEP study in Black MSM (HPTN 073), which showed that a culturally anchored “client-centered care coordination” model (C4) was important to getting men into and supported in a PrEP program. Other data gave some insight into additional components of PrEP programming and messaging. Presentations included findings that PrEP use can have a limited impact on renal function—as it can in people living with HIV who use TDF/FTC as part of treatment; an update from a New York City PrEP project where rates of sexually transmitted infections among PrEP users suggest that routine screening—at every clinic visit—should be the norm; and finally, a presentation of HIV infection in an adherent PrEP user who acquired TDF/FTC-resistant HIV. Each of these presentations raises concerns—and has developed an excellent resource on the HIV-resistance data—but none are insurmountable or even surprising. Piloting PrEP in the real world is the only way to find out how best do deliver, message and monitor this new strategy to all populations at risk.
  • Long-Acting Injectables for Treatment—and Prevention: Antiretrotival treatment options took a step forward with the first injectable treatment option. 91 percent of patients in a study of the 8-week long-acting injectable cabotegravir and rilpivirine combination regimen maintained virological suppression and also expressed satisfaction with this new option in a new study. Both cabotegravir and rilpivirine are also being explored separately as PrEP agents. Marty Markowitz (Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center) presented results from the Phase IIa ÉCLAIR study that examined the safety and pharmokinetics of cabotegravir in HIV-uninfected men, setting the stage for a future Phase III efficacy trial.
  • Turning Targets into Treatment: A full abstract-driven session was devoted to Getting to 90/90/90 and included Tendani Gaolathe (Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership) presenting on how Botswana is approaching the 90-90-90 goal, getting to 83 percent (testing), 87 percent (on treatment) and 96 percent (virally suppressed) representing an overall level of viral suppression of 70 percent as compared to the 73 percent goal of the 90-90-90 goals. Factors predictive of not being virally suppressed included youth, male gender, single status and, interestingly, higher education level. At the same time, there was a presentation on how Malawi is using its Option B+ rollout to prepare for universal treatment. The challenges of Option B+ could be seen in the 25 percent drop off in post-partum adherence by women after six months. And in a separate session, Helen Ayles (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine) presented Missing But in Action: Where Are the Men? raising an emerging discussion of how to reach HIV-positive men with treatment programs. Strategies suggested include taking testing outside antenatal clinics and engagement through men’s clubs and even bars. While reaching these men is important, it remains critical that treatment for all who need it remain a focus.
  • Rectal Microbicides Well Received: Ross Cranston (MTN) presented data from MTN 017, the first Phase II rectal microbicide gel study—it showed no safety risk and both adherence and acceptability were high. The open-label trial looked at a rectal formulation of tenofovir gel inserted via vaginal applicator, comparing its daily use with event-driven (used before and after sex) use. A third study regimen included the use of daily oral Truvada as PrEP. All 195 MSM and transgender women cycled through each of the three regimens for eight weeks. Adherence feedback was provided to participants through daily texts, returned applicators and real-time drug levels reporting. This contributed to high adherence across all study regimens. Overall preference favors Truvada as PrEP slightly over event-driven tenofovir gel, but the difference is not statistically significant. Daily gel application came in a close third. Cranston concluded that due to these results, rectal tenofovir gel is worthy of further study. Research is already underway to expand the pipeline of rectal microbicide products in order to find the right product to move forward into an effectiveness study, said Ian McGowan (MTN), co-author of the study.
  • New Cure Work Discussed at CROI: On the day before CROI officially opened, the AIDS Treatment Activists Coalition, AVAC, European AIDS Treatment Group, Project Inform and TAG co-sponsored a community workshop on scientific, regulatory and community engagement issues in HIV cure research, which included an update on an exciting and emerging area using bNAbs for treatment and acute infection in the FRESH (Females Rising through Education, Support, and Health) cohort in South Africa. Presentations are posted online.