Introduction: The unexpected identification of a neural tube defect (NTD) safety signal with preconception dolutegravir (DTG) exposure in the Botswana Tsepamo birth outcomes study brought into sharp focus the need for reliable data on use of new antiretrovirals in pregnancy, improved pharmacovigilance systems to evaluate safety of new drugs being introduced into populations including women of reproductive potential, and balanced risk-benefit messaging when a safety signal is identified. Discussion: The Tsepamo study NTD safety signal and accompanying regulatory responses led to uncertainty about the most appropriate approach to DTG use among women of reproductive potential, affecting global DTG roll-out plans, and limiting DTG use in adolescent girls and women. It also revealed a tension between a public health approach to antiretroviral treatment (ART) and individual choice, and highlighted difficulties interpreting and messaging an unexpected safety signal with uncertainty about risk. This difficulty was compounded by the lack of high-quality data on pregnancy outcomes from women receiving ART outside the Tsepamo surveillance sites and countries other than Botswana, resulting in a prolonged period of uncertainty while data on additional exposures are evaluated to refute or confirm the initial safety signal. We discuss principles for evaluating and introducing new drugs in the general population that would ensure collection of appropriate data to inform drug safety in adolescent girls and women of reproductive potential and minimize confusion about drug use in this population when a safety signal is identified. Conclusions: The response to a signal suggesting a possible safety risk for a drug used in pregnancy or among women who may become pregnant needs to be rapid and comprehensive. It requires the existence of appropriately designed surveillance systems with broad population coverage; data analyses that examine risk-benefit trade-offs in a variety of contexts; guidance to transform this risk-benefit balance into effective and agreed-upon policy; involvement of the affected community and other key stakeholders; and a communication plan for all levels of knowledge and complexity. Implementation of this proposed framework for responding to safety signals is needed to ensure that any drug used in pregnancy can be rapidly and appropriately evaluated should a serious safety alert arise.
- health systems
- neural tube defects
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
- Infectious Diseases