Objective: Maintaining adequate drug adherence is crucial to ensure the HIV prevention benefits of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). We developed an enzymatic assay for rapidly measuring tenofovir-diphosphate (TFV-DP) concentrations – a metabolite that indicates long-term PrEP adherence.
Setting: The study was conducted at the Madison HIV Clinic at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Methods: We enrolled adults receiving standard oral PrEP, and individuals not receiving any antiretrovirals. We measured TFV-DP concentrations in diluted whole blood using our novel REverSe TRanscrIptase Chain Termination (RESTRICT) assay, based on inhibition of HIV reverse transcriptase (RT) enzyme. Blood samples were diluted in water, DNA templates, nucleotides, RT, and intercalating dye added, and results measured with a fluorescence reader—stronger fluorescence indicated higher RT activity. We compared RESTRICT assay results to TFV-DP concentrations from matched dried blood spot samples measured by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) using ≥700 fmol/punch TFV-DP as a threshold for adequate adherence (≥4 doses/week).
Results: Among 18 adults enrolled, 4 of 7 participants receiving PrEP had TFV-DP levels ≥700 fmol/punch by LC-MS/MS. RESTRICT fluorescence correlated with LC-MS/MS measurements (r=-0.845, p<0.0001). Median fluorescence was 93.3 (95% CI: 90.9 to 114) for samples <700 fmol/punch and 54.4 (95% CI: 38.0 to 72.0) for samples ≥700 fmol/punch. When calibrated to an a priori defined threshold of 82.7, RESTRICT distinguished both groups with 100% sensitivity and 92.9% specificity.
Conclusions: This novel enzymatic assay for measuring HIV reverse transcriptase activity may be suitable for distinguishing TFV-DP concentrations in blood that correspond to protective PrEP adherence.