Burnet Institute, in collaboration with St Vincent’s Hospital and The Alfred hospital, has received a multimillion-dollar independent research grant from Gilead Sciences, Inc. to study the effectiveness of new highly effective hepatitis C medications in a community setting.
The Treatment and Prevention (TAP) study is the first of its kind in the world. Using a nurse led model of care, people infected with hepatitis C will have the chance to be treated with new highly effective drugs - sofosbuvir and ledipasvir.
As well as being highly effective, these new hepatitis C medications have minimal side effects, hence the possibility to treat people without them having to attend hospital health services.
Study participants will be drawn from the SuperMIX study, a cohort of over 700 people who inject drugs (PWID), who have been participating in research with Burnet Institute for many years.
PWID are at particular risk of hepatitis C infection. As well, many PWID have difficulty attending large hospitals or health services, hence the idea of providing community-based treatment.
The Head of Burnet’s Centre for Population Health, Professor Margaret Hellard, said the health outcomes of more than 220,000 Australians infected with hepatitis C stand to benefit from the study.
“Hepatitis C is an issue of global concern with an estimated 350,000 to 500,000 deaths annually. In Australia, hepatitis C results in nearly 700 deaths and over $78.9 million in diagnosis and treatment costs each year, and the number of deaths and costs are growing each year. We have an opportunity over the next 10 or 20 years to eliminate hepatitis C from Australia and from other countries,” Professor Hellard said.
“To do that, we have to work out how to use these medications sensibly in community settings to reduce the disease transmission. The TAP study is addressing this key issue.”
The TAP study explores the concept of ‘treatment and prevention’ (also known as ‘treatment as prevention’); treatment not only results in cure for the individual, but also prevents the spread of hepatitis C virus (HCV) to others.
The study will assess if treating PWID in Melbourne for their hepatitis C reduces transmission in the community and the prevalence of infection.
“Decreasing the rate of transmission of HCV is the most effective strategy for tackling the HCV epidemic,” said Professor Alex Thompson, Director of Gastroenterology at St. Vincent’s Hospital.
“The results of this study will be used to support broad and equitable access for PWID to these medications in the future, both in Australia and overseas.”
The results of this part of the study have implications for the roll out of hepatitis C treatment globally.
The TAP study will involve more than 400 participants who will be followed up for two years. One hundred and thirty people will have treatment in early 2015; others will be treated at the completion of the study, ensuring that all hepatitis C positive people in the study receive treatment with the new hepatitis C medications.