Gilead, Merck partner up on long-acting HIV treatment

Companies are working on a 2-drug regimen of Gilead's lenacapavir and Merck’s islatravir.

Gilead Sciences and Merck will co-develop and co-commercialize long-acting HIV treatments, the companies said on March 15.

The treatments combine Gilead’s investigational capsid inhibitor, lenacapavir, and Merck’s investigational nucleoside reverse transcriptase translocation inhibitor, islatravir, into a 2-drug regimen.

Related: HIV therapeutics market to reach $28 billion in 2029

There is an increased demand for HIV treatments, due to some HIV antiretrovirals being used to treat COVID-19 globally. The global HIV drugs market is expected to grow nearly 6% annually to reach $34.2 billion in 2023, according to ResearchandMarkets.com.

Across 7 major global markets, HIV sales are projected to reach $28 billion in sales in 2029, driven by injectable medications, according to GlobalData.

Islatravir and lenacapavir are both potentially first-in-class medicines in late-stage clinical trials, with significant clinical data generated so far, Merck and Gilead said. “Both medicines have long half-lives and have demonstrated activity at low dosages in clinical studies, which support development as an investigational combination regimen with long-acting formulations, both oral and injectable,” they noted.

Related: Viiv Healthcare’s Cabenuva will be available in the U.S. in February

Daily, single tablet regimens are available for those with HIV, but options that would allow for less frequent, oral dosing or infrequent injections rather than daily dosing “have the potential to address preference considerations, as well as issues associated with adherence and privacy,” they said.

“This collaboration with Gilead brings together two companies dedicated to the fight against HIV to develop potential new long-acting treatment options, and is an important step forward in our strategy to harness the full potential of islatravir for the treatment of HIV,” said Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck.

The first clinical studies of the oral combination are expected to begin in the second half of 2021.

Read more: FDA clears first-in-class HIV-1 treatment