J&J and ViiV's long-acting HIV treatment stacks up to daily pills in Phase II

Viiv Healthcare CEO Dominique Limet

A new semimonthly treatment from Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and ViiV Healthcare tamped down HIV as well as daily therapy in a midstage trial, promising a more convenient option for patients.

The injected therapy combines J&J's rilpivirine, marketed as Edurant, with ViiV's investigational cabotegravir. In a Phase IIb trial, the partners recruited 309 HIV patients and gave them standard three-drug therapy until they achieved viral suppression. From there, investigators split the group in three, keeping some patients on daily pills and giving others either monthly or every-8-weeks injections of rilpivirine and cabotegravir.

After 96 weeks, the rates of viral suppression were consistent across all three arms of the study, J&J and ViiV said, with 95% for the 8-week group, 94% for the four-week patients and 91% for those on three pills a day.

The plan now is to amplify those results in a larger Phase III study, the partners said, with the goal of launching the combo injection by 2020.

Last year ViiV, an HIV-focused company majority owned by GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), made J&J its first partner since getting off the ground in 2009 as the pair teamed up on a single-tablet combination of rilpivirine and ViiV's Tivicay. That drug, which would compete with Gilead Sciences' ($GILD) Atripla, is now in Phase III development.

ViiV has been among the few recent bright spots for GSK, which co-owns the company with Pfizer ($PFE) and Shionogi. GSK briefly considered an IPO for its stake in ViiV but abandoned the idea amid long-running struggles for its legacy businesses, making the steady growth of HIV revenue all the more vital.

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