New study to test if Hepatitis C could be eliminated

27 July 2018

A new research study will test whether treating people for Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) could help to eliminate the virus. The initiative is being announced on the eve of World Hepatitis Day, Saturday July 28 2018.  

Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) have begun a five-year study into the prevention of the virus by treatment. The results of the study will be used to guide clinical practice and policy, and support decision-making by the NHS on whether people who inject drugs with mild liver disease should be targeted for early treatment.

Hepatitis C drugs now cure more than 90% of patients within 8-12 weeks with few side effects. However, new direct acting antivirals are expensive. The virus is a major cause of liver disease, cancer and death and is estimated to affect 200,000 people in the UK. Most of those affected are people who have injected drugs.

Professor Sharon Hutchinson from GCU’s School of Health and Life Sciences is the joint-lead investigator in the £2.8 million EPIToPe study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Professor Hutchinson said: “The study will generate empirical evidence as to whether treating people who inject drugs can reduce the spread of infection. We know that people who inject drugs may become reinfected. However, we also know that the new HCV drugs are highly effective.

“We hypothesise that if HCV treatment is increased sufficiently, eventually the virus could be eliminated. The study will test this using population-level data across the UK.”

In the first study of its kind, researchers will treat up to 500 people who inject drugs over a period of two years in NHS Tayside. Treatment will be offered in a number of settings including pharmacies, addiction services, and prisons.  It is anticipated that this intervention involving major and rapid scale-up of treatment will reduce chronic Hepatitis C in the population of people who inject drugs by two-thirds from 30% to 10%.

The researchers will assess if this intervention also helps people to recover from their addiction and whether there are long-term, cost-effective benefits to the NHS by providing greater access to HCV drugs in the community.

Teams of researchers will collaborate on the project from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU); the University of Bristol; University of Dundee; MRC Biostatistics Unit University of Cambridge; Queen Mary University of London; Health Protection Scotland; University of California San Diego; NHS Tayside; Public Health England; Scottish Drugs Forum and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

GCU researchers include Professors Sharon Hutchinson, Lawrie Elliott, Paul Flowers and David Goldberg.

World Hepatitis Day (WHD) takes places every year on 28 July bringing the world together under a single theme to raise awareness of the global burden of viral hepatitis and to influence real change.