Comparing the Novel Method of Assessing PrEP Adherence/Exposure Using Hair Samples to Other Pharmacologic and Traditional Measures

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The efficacy of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in HIV will diminish with poor adherence; pharmacologic measures of drug exposure have proven critical to PrEP trial interpretation. We assessed drug exposure in hair against other pharmacologic and more routinely used measures to assess pill-taking.


Participants were randomized to placebo, daily PrEP, or intermittent PrEP to evaluate safety and tolerability of daily versus intermittent tenofovir/emtricitabine (TFV/FTC) in 2 phase II PrEP clinical trials conducted in Africa. Different measures of drug exposure, including self-report, medication event monitoring system (MEMS)-caps openings, and TFV/FTC levels in hair and other biomatrices were compared.


At weeks 8 and 16, self-reported pill-taking, MEMS-caps openings, and TFV/FTC levels in hair, plasma, and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were measured. Regression models evaluated predictors of TFV/FTC concentrations in the 3 biomatrices; correlation coefficients between pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic measures were calculated. Both trials were registered on (NCT00931346/NCT00971230).


Hair collection was highly feasible and acceptable (100% in week 8; 96% in week 16). In multivariate analysis, strong associations were seen between pharmacologic measures and MEMS-caps openings (all P < 0.001); self-report was only weakly associated with pharmacologic measures. TFV/FTC hair concentrations were significantly correlated with levels in plasma and PBMCs (correlation coefficients, 0.41–0.86, all P < 0.001).


Measuring TFV/FTC exposure in small hair samples in African PrEP trials was feasible and acceptable. Hair levels correlated strongly with PBMC, plasma concentrations, and MEMS-caps openings. As in other PrEP trials, self-report was the weakest measure of exposure. Further study of hair TFV/FTC levels in PrEP trials and demonstration projects to assess adherence/exposure is warranted.

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