The elimination of hepatitis C virus (HCV) as a global public health threat is the goal of a AUD$7 million NHMRC Program Grant awarded to Burnet Institute’s Professor Margaret Hellard to further research into new highly effective direct-acting antiviral (DAA) medications.
More than 230,000 Australians live with chronic HCV infection, with an estimated annual health care cost of AUD$6.5 billion if left untreated.
The new DAAs provide an opportunity to revolutionise HCV care, and stop HCV-related deaths and transmission, making HCV elimination possible.
The prestigious five-year grant will directly contribute to the global response to HCV elimination and the World Health Organization goal to achieve elimination by 2030.
Professor Hellard said there would be a focus in the research, which incorporates several existing research projects and partnerships, on key groups in Australia where HCV transmission is occurring, including people who inject drugs, and gay and bisexual men who are HIV-positive.
“We need prevention and we need to ensure people are diagnosed, treated and cured, what we call the cascade of care,” Professor Hellard said.
“We also need to think about issues around reinfection and resistance. If people get reinfected, that do we do about that? Maybe people will become resistant to the infection.
“The whole idea is for the program to be very integrated - you need data to inform models, and models to inform action. You perform your action and use the information from that to inform the next model. The key assumptions must be actionable.”
Professor Hellard said she was excited by the prospect of achieving HCV elimination in Australia and the lessons to be learned globally.
“We need to think how we provide support and assistance to resource limited countries that may not have the same level of treatment access as we do,” she said.
“If we do a good job of it, that really helps public health workers persuade governments to make treatment available for everybody.”
The Elimination of Hepatitis C Program Grant is part of the latest round of AUD$125.3 million in NHMRC funding to support the work of Australian researchers and scientists.
Find out more about Burnet’s Hepatitis C research and Eliminate Hep C initiatives.