From the Journals

One-time, universal hepatitis C testing cost effective, researchers say



Universal one-time screening for hepatitis C virus infection is cost effective, compared with birth cohort screening alone, according to the results of a study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend testing all individuals born between 1945 and 1965 in addition to injection drug users and other high-risk individuals. But so-called birth cohort screening does not reflect the recent spike in hepatitis C virus (HCV) cases among younger persons in the United States, nor the current recommendation to treat nearly all chronic HCV cases, wrote Mark H. Eckman, MD, of the University of Cincinnati, and his associates.

Using a computer program called Decision Maker, they modeled the cost-effectiveness of universal one-time testing, birth cohort screening, and no screening based on quality-adjusted life-years (QALYS) and 2017 U.S. dollars. They assumed that all HCV-infected patients were treatment naive, treatment eligible, and asymptomatic (for example, had no decompensated cirrhosis). They used efficacy data from the ASTRAL trials of sofosbuvir-velpatasvir as well as the ENDURANCE, SURVEYOR, and EXPEDITION trials of glecaprevir-pibrentasvir. In the model, patients who did not achieve a sustained viral response to treatment went on to complete a 12-week triple direct-acting antiviral (DAA) regimen (sofosbuvir, velpatasvir, and voxilaprevir).

Based on these assumptions, universal one-time screening and treatment of infected individuals cost less than $50,000 per QALY gained, making it highly cost effective, compared with no screening, the investigators wrote. Universal screening also was highly cost effective when compared with birth cohort screening, costing $11,378 for each QALY gained.

“Analyses performed during the era of first-generation DAAs and interferon-based treatment regimens found birth-cohort screening to be ‘cost effective,’ ” the researchers wrote. “However, the availability of a new generation of highly effective, non–interferon-based oral regimens, with fewer side effects and shorter treatment courses, has altered the dynamic around the question of screening.” They pointed to another recent study in which universal one-time HCV testing was more cost effective than birth cohort screening.

Such findings have spurred experts to revisit guidelines on HCV screening, but universal testing is controversial when some states, counties, and communities have a low HCV prevalence. In the model, universal one-time HCV screening was cost effective (less than $50,000 per QALY gained), compared with birth cohort screening as long as prevalence exceeded 0.07% among adults not born between 1945 and 1965. The current prevalence estimate in this group is 0.29%, which is probably low because it does not account for the rising incidence among younger adults, the researchers wrote. In an ideal world, all clinics and hospitals would implement an HCV testing program, but in the real world of scarce resources, “data regarding the cost-effectiveness threshold can guide local policy decisions by directing testing services to settings in which they generate sufficient benefit for the cost.”

Partial funding came from the National Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC Foundation), with funding provided through multiple donors to the CDC Foundation’s Viral Hepatitis Action Coalition. Dr. Eckman reported grant support from Merck and one coinvestigator reported ties to AbbVie, Gilead, Merck, and several other pharmaceutical companies.

SOURCE: Eckman MH et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018 Sep 7. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2018.08.080.

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