World AIDS Day – Liverpool leads on research to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV

School of Engineering Building, University of Liverpool

School of Engineering Building, University of Liverpool

Researchers from the University’s Institute of Translational Medicine have been awarded approximately 5.8m grant to lead a multinational research consortium that aims to reduce mother to child transmission of HIV.

The DolPHIN-2 investigators were funded as part of a major UNITAID initiative to gather evidence on the use of new priority antiretroviral regimens for first-line therapy in developing countries. DolPHIN-2 seeks to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding in women most at risk of transmitting the virus.

Interventions

Around 1.6 million women living with HIV become pregnant each year. Without antiretroviral therapy, the rates of mother-to-child transmission of HIV range from 15 to 45 per cent. With current HIV treatment this risk can be reduced to below five per cent, provided treatment is started early in pregnancy.

However, a significant number of pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa present late to maternity services, often in the last three months of pregnancy where current first-line therapy does not have sufficient time to act to prevent infant transmission. This late initiation of HIV treatment is associated with a seven-fold higher risk of infant transmission, and a doubling of infant mortality in the first year of life.

A new drug, Dolutegravir (DTG), has the ability to act much more quickly than current recommended therapy. DTG rapidly reduces the amount of HIV in blood in the first three months of starting treatment, and thus potentially has considerable advantages in preventing infant transmission. However, the safety and efficacy of DTG in pregnant women is unknown, and this lack of knowledge is the major barrier to its widespread use in pregnancy.

Large clinical trial

DolPHIN-2 comprises a large clinical trial in Uganda and South Africa, where late-presenting mothers are randomised to receive a DTG-containing regimen compared with standard-of-care treatment.

Mothers and infants will be followed up for at least one year. Additional studies will examine the cost-effectiveness of implementing DTG across sub-Saharan Africa, identify and address the challenges the mothers face, and examine a number of factors which may enhance or prevent transmission.

The DolPHIN-2 consortium is led by the University of Liverpool; other members include the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), the Infectious Disease Institute in Kampala , the University of Cape Town and Radboud University Nijmegen.

Transmission preventable

Professor Saye Khoo , Principle Investigator, University’s Institute of Translational Medicine , said: ’Mother-to-child transmission of HIV is preventable, and we have a duty to ensure the burden of HIV is not handed down across generations. Over 100,000 babies acquired HIV last year worldwide.

"We have both a moral imperative to make new treatments available and affordable, and an ethical imperative to ensure these treatments are supported by robust evidence for safety and efficacy. As this evidence is gathered, we will work closely with international agencies involved in enlarging access and developing clinical guidelines in order to ensure that this research translates into real benefit for such a vulnerable population.’

About UNITAID

UNITAID finds new and better ways to prevent, test and treat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria quickly and more affordably. It takes game-changing ideas and turns those into practical solutions that can help accelerate the end of the three diseases.

Established in 2006 by Brazil, Chile, France, Norway and the United Kingdom, UNITAID plays an important part in the global effort to defeat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.


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