The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends viral load (VL) measurement as the preferred monitoring strategy for HIV-infected individuals on antiretroviral therapy (ART) in resource-limited settings. The new WHO guidelines 2016 continue to define virologic failure as two consecutive VL ≥1000 copies/mL (at least 3 months apart) despite good adherence, triggering switch to second-line therapy. However, the threshold of 1000 copies/mL for defining virologic failure is based on low-quality evidence. Observational studies have shown that individuals with low-level viremia (measurable but below 1000 copies/mL) are at increased risk for accumulation of resistance mutations and subsequent virologic failure. The SESOTHO trial assesses a lower threshold for switch to second-line ART in patients with sustained unsuppressed VL.
In this multicenter, parallel-group, open-label, randomized controlled trial conducted in Lesotho, patients on first-line ART with two consecutive unsuppressed VL measurements ≥100 copies/mL, where the second VL is between 100 and 999 copies/mL, will either be switched to second-line ART immediately (intervention group) or not be switched (standard of care, according to WHO guidelines). The primary endpoint is viral resuppression (VL < 50 copies/mL) 9 months after randomization. We will enrol 80 patients, giving us 90% power to detect a difference of 35% in viral resuppression between the groups (assuming two-sided 5% alpha error). For our primary analysis, we will use a modified intention-to-treat set, with those lost to care, death, or crossed over considered failure to resuppress, and using logistic regression models adjusted for the prespecified stratification variables.
The SESOTHO trial challenges the current WHO guidelines, assessing an alternative, lower VL threshold for patients with unsuppressed VL on first-line ART. This trial will provide data to inform future WHO guidelines on VL thresholds to recommend switch to second-line ART.
ClinicalTrials.gov (NCT03088241), registered May 05, 2017
BMC Infectious Diseases, 12 February 2018
PLOS Medicine, 16 September 2020