Objective: Limited information exists on the clinical usefulness of drug level monitoring for efavirenz, a once-daily non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI). The aim of this study was to determine whether efavirenz plasma concentration monitoring could predict treatment failure and central nervous system (CNS) tolerability.
Methods: Blood samples were obtained from 130 HIV-infected patients receiving efavirenz in combination with other antiretroviral agents for more than 3 months. Efavirenz plasma concentrations were measured by high-performance liquid chromatography. An evaluation of CNS side-effects was performed and the viral load, CD4 cell count and other clinical and laboratory data were assessed. In 85 patients, these measures were repeated at 3 month intervals.
Results: Efavirenz plasma levels (n = 226) were measured at an average of 14 h after drug intake. Drug concentrations ranged from 125 to 15 230 μg/l (median 2188). Large inter-patient (CV 118%) and limited intra-patient (CV 30%) variabilities were observed in efavirenz levels. Virological failure was observed in 50% of patients with low efavirenz levels (< 1000 μg/l) versus 22 and 18% in patients with 1000–4000 μg/l or more than 4000 μg/l, respectively. CNS toxicity was approximately three times more frequent in patients with high efavirenz levels (> 4000 μg/l) compared with patients with 1000–4000 μg/l.
Conclusion: Treatment failure and CNS side-effects are associated with low and high efavirenz plasma levels, respectively. The important inter-individual variability in efavirenz levels strongly argues for dose adjustment on the basis of therapeutic drug monitoring to optimize treatment.