Timing of antiretroviral therapy. Use of Markov modeling and decision analysis to evaluate the long-term implications of therapy

Pablo Tebas*, Keith Henry, Robert Nease, Robert Murphy, John Phair, William G. Powderly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background: The timing of initiation of antiretroviral therapy is controversial. Current guidelines are heavily based on the principle of 'hit early, hit hard', although the long-term implications of this approach are unknown. Methods: Using Markov modeling and decision analysis we modeled the virologic outcomes over 10 years in a hypothetical population of 10 000 HIV-infected patients in which therapy (with the possibility of three sequential regimens before the development of multidrug-resistant virus) is started immediately versus starting progressively at rates of 5, 10, 15, 20 or 30% of the original population each year. The model used inputs from available clinical trial data: virologic success rate and durability of the response of the first and subsequent regimens. We performed one-way and two-way sensitivity analysis to evaluate changes in the input variables. Results: If therapy is started immediately in all patients, by 10 years 57% would be undetectable, but 38% would have detectable multidrug-resistant virus. In contrast, the population as a whole would have had better virologic outcomes if one waited before starting treatment at any progression rate; for example, initiating therapy in 10% of the subjects per year results in 64% of patients being undetectable and 24% with multidrug-resistant virus. Two-way sensitivity analysis demonstrates that immediate initiation should be at least 15 to 20% better than delayed antiretroviral therapy to justify immediate initiation of therapy over a wide range of success rates of the delayed start. Conclusion: Our analysis, utilizing optimistic outcomes based on short-term clinical trials, provides a theoretical basis for questioning the current aggressive early use of therapy and should help prompt studies that look at when and how to start antiretroviral therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)591-599
Number of pages9
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 30 2001


  • Antiretroviral therapy
  • Decision analysis
  • HIV
  • Protease inhibitors
  • Therapeutic guidelines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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