Competition delays multi-drug resistance evolution during combination therapy

Berrios-Caro, Ernesto; Gifford, Danna R; Galla, Tobias
Journal of Theoretical Biology 509, 110524 (1-15) (2021)

Combination therapies have shown remarkable success in preventing the evolution of resistance to multiple drugs, including HIV, tuberculosis, and cancer. Nevertheless, the rise in drug resistance still remains an important challenge. The capability to accurately predict the emergence of resistance, either to one or multiple drugs, may help to improve treatment options. Existing theoretical approaches often focus on exponential growth laws, which may not be realistic when scarce resources and competition limit growth. In this work, we study the emergence of single and double drug resistance in a model of combination therapy of two drugs. The model describes a sensitive strain, two types of single-resistant strains, and a double-resistant strain. We compare the probability that resistance emerges for three growth laws: exponential growth, logistic growth without competition between strains, and logistic growth with competition between strains. Using mathematical estimates and numerical simulations, we show that between-strain competition only affects the emergence of single resistance when resources are scarce. In contrast, the probability of double resistance is affected by between-strain competition over a wider space of resource availability. This indicates that competition between different resistant strains may be pertinent to identifying strategies for suppressing drug resistance, and that exponential models may overestimate the emergence of resistance to multiple drugs. A by-product of our work is an efficient strategy to evaluate probabilities of single and double resistance in models with multiple sequential mutations. This may be useful for a range of other problems in which the probability of resistance is of interest.

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