Background: Use of raltegravir with optimum background therapy is effective and well tolerated in treatment-experienced patients with multidrug-resistant HIV-1 infection. We compared the safety and efficacy of raltegravir with efavirenz as part of combination antiretroviral therapy for treatment-naive patients. Methods: Patients from 67 study centres on five continents were enrolled between Sept 14, 2006, and June 5, 2008. Eligible patients were infected with HIV-1, had viral RNA (vRNA) concentration of more than 5000 copies per mL, and no baseline resistance to efavirenz, tenofovir, or emtricitabine. Patients were randomly allocated by interactive voice response system in a 1:1 ratio (double-blind) to receive 400 mg oral raltegravir twice daily or 600 mg oral efavirenz once daily, in combination with tenofovir and emtricitabine. The primary efficacy endpoint was achievement of a vRNA concentration of less than 50 copies per mL at week 48. The primary analysis was per protocol. The margin of non-inferiority was 12%. This study is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT00369941. Findings: 566 patients were enrolled and randomly allocated to treatment, of whom 281 received raltegravir, 282 received efavirenz, and three were never treated. At baseline, 297 (53%) patients had more than 100 000 vRNA copies per mL and 267 (47%) had CD4 counts of 200 cells per μL or less. The main analysis (with non-completion counted as failure) showed that 86·1% (n=241 patients) of the raltegravir group and 81·9% (n=230) of the efavirenz group achieved the primary endpoint (difference 4·2%, 95% CI -1·9 to 10·3). The time to achieve such viral suppression was shorter for patients on raltegravir than on efavirenz (log-rank test p<0·0001). Significantly fewer drug-related clinical adverse events occurred in patients on raltegravir (n=124 [44·1%]) than those on efavirenz (n=217 [77·0%]; difference -32·8%, 95% CI -40·2 to -25·0, p<0·0001). Serious drug-related clinical adverse events occurred in less than 2% of patients in each drug group. Interpretation: Raltegravir-based combination treatment had rapid and potent antiretroviral activity, which was non-inferior to that of efavirenz at week 48. Raltegravir is a well tolerated alternative to efavirenz as part of a combination regimen against HIV-1 in treatment-naive patients. Funding: Merck.
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