Implementation of a Novel Adherence Monitoring Strategy in a Phase III, Blinded, Placebo-Controlled, HIV-1 Prevention Clinical Trial

for the MTN-020 ASPIRE Study Team

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Placebo-controlled HIV-1 prevention trials of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) have not generally used concurrent measurement of adherence because of the potential risk of unblinding. However, several pre-exposure prophylaxis trials for HIV-1 prevention among women failed to show effectiveness because of low product adherence. Evaluation of product adherence objectively during a study provides the opportunity for strengthening adherence activities at sites having low adherence. Methods: During MTN-020/ASPIRE, a phase III, placebo-controlled trial of the dapivirine intravaginal ring, we implemented an adherence monitoring system. Monitoring began in quarter 1 (Q1) 2013 and continued through the conclusion of the trial. Blood plasma was collected quarterly and tested for dapivirine concentrations while maintaining blinding among study team members involved in participant management. Dapivirine concentrations >95 pg/mL, reflecting >8 hours of continuous use, were assessed as signaling product use. Study leadership monitored results on a monthly basis and provided feedback to site investigators. Experiences were shared across sites to motivate staff and counsel participants to strive toward higher adherence levels. Results: An upward trend in adherence was observed (P < 0.0001); the proportion of samples from subjects in the active arm with dapivirine >95 pg/mL increased from 63% in Q1 2013 to 84% by Q1 2015. Conclusions: Ongoing drug level testing as a marker of adherence in MTN-020/ASPIRE demonstrates the feasibility of real-time adherence monitoring while maintaining study blinding at the level of participants, sites, and study leadership. This approach is novel for large-scale effectiveness studies for HIV-1 prevention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)330-337
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017


  • HIV-1
  • adherence
  • dapivirine
  • intravaginal ring
  • microbicide
  • pre-exposure prophylaxis
  • women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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