Clin Trials. 2023 Oct 25:17407745231203327. doi: 10.1177/17407745231203327. Online ahead of print.
INTRODUCTION: Developing alternative approaches to evaluating absolute efficacy of new HIV prevention interventions is a priority, as active-controlled designs, whereby individuals without HIV are randomized to the experimental intervention or an active control known to be effective, are increasing. With this design, however, the efficacy of the experimental intervention to prevent HIV acquisition relative to placebo cannot be evaluated directly.
METHODS: One proposed approach to estimate absolute prevention efficacy is to use an HIV exposure marker, such as incident rectal gonorrhea, to infer counterfactual placebo HIV incidence. We formalize a statistical framework for this approach, specify working regression and likelihood-based estimation approaches, lay out three assumptions under which valid inference can be achieved, evaluate finite-sample performance, and illustrate the approach using a recent active-controlled HIV prevention trial.
RESULTS: We find that in finite samples and under correctly specified assumptions accurate and precise estimates of counterfactual placebo incidence and prevention efficacy are produced. Based on data from the DISCOVER trial in men and transgender women who have sex with men, and assuming correctly specified assumptions, the estimated prevention efficacy for tenofovir alafenamide plus emtricitabine is 98.1% (95% confidence interval: 96.4%-99.4%) using the working model approach and 98.1% (95% confidence interval: 96.4%-99.7%) using the likelihood-based approach.
CONCLUSION: Careful assessment of the underlying assumptions, study of their violation, evaluation of the approach in trials with placebo arms, and advancement of improved exposure markers are needed before the HIV exposure marker approach can be relied upon in practice.