The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), through its AIDS Research Group headed by Dr. Rossanna A. Ditangco, unveiled a new HIV treatment regimen soon to be rolled out in the Philippines.

In a an online summit held on December 3, 2020 at The Club United in Parañaque City, which also streamed via video conferencing as part of #SaferNowPH Summit 2020: Flattening the Curve series, Dr. Ditangco introduced the promising effects of Dolutegravir or DTG, the newly–identified ARV (anti–retroviral) drug in slowing down the replication of the  Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)  inside the human body. DTG now stands to be the preferred treatment option across all populations.

Dr. Ditangco also highlighted the concept of “Optimized Regimen” in treating HIV infection. According to her, ART (Anti-Retroviral Treatment) should be safe and effective, well–tolerated, has minimal side effects, has high barrier to drug resistance, and affordable. DTG checks all these boxes, making it a perfect fit. The drug inhibits HIV integrase by binding to the active site and blocking the strand transfer step of retroviral DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) integration in the host cell. The strand transfer step is essential in the HIV replication cycle and results in the inhibition of viral activity.

What makes the drug special is that it has a rapid achievement in suppressing the viral load of a person living with HIV (PLHIV). Aside its potency, this can also be given immediately to a patient with a very low CD4 count. Dr. Ditangco noted a Tsepamo Case Study conducted in Botswana (one of the countries in the world that started using DTG) about the effects of ARV drug to child–bearing women. In July 2020, there was an increased number of infants with Neural Tube Defects (NTD) born from mothers taking DTG compared to women taking other ARV drugs. The study revealed two (2) incidence of two (2) newborn babies who developed NTD per 1,000 live births. For women who started taking DTG during the first trimester of pregnancy, the infants developed NTD, while those who started taking the medicine after the first trimester, showed no cases of NTD. 

Initially launched in the country October of last year, DTG now becomes part of Phase 1 of the existing HIV treatment guidelines in the Philippines. For more information and insights about DTG, watch Dr. Ditangco’s talk here.

Text by Ben Quiaoit