The risk of drug resistance during long-acting antimicrobial therapy

Nande A, Hill AL


The emergence of drug resistance during antimicrobial therapy is a major global health problem, especially for chronic infections like human immunodeficiency virus, hepatitis B and C, and tuberculosis. Sub-optimal adherence to long-term treatment is an important contributor to resistance risk. New long-acting drugs are being developed for weekly, monthly or less frequent dosing to improve adherence, but may lead to long-term exposure to intermediate drug levels. In this study, we analyse the effect of dosing frequency on the risk of resistance evolving during time-varying drug levels. We find that long-acting therapies can increase, decrease or have little effect on resistance, depending on the source (pre-existing or de novo) and degree of resistance, and rates of drug absorption and clearance. Long-acting therapies with rapid drug absorption, slow clearance and strong wild-type inhibition tend to reduce resistance caused by partially resistant strains in the early stages of treatment even if they do not improve adherence. However, if subpopulations of microbes persist and can reactivate during sub-optimal treatment, longer-acting therapies may substantially increase the resistance risk. Our results show that drug kinetics affect selection for resistance in a complicated manner, and that pathogen-specific models are needed to evaluate the benefits of new long-acting therapies.

Keywords: HIV; drug resistance; long-acting therapy; mathematical modelling; microbial evolution; viral dynamics.