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High rates of HCV treatment completion seen in people who inject drugs



People who inject drugs, including those with ongoing injection drug use and challenging demographic characteristics, have high rates of hepatitis C virus treatment completion and cure, preliminary results from an ongoing study showed.

Dr. Elana Rosenthal

Dr. Elana Rosenthal

“Both from a public health and a human rights perspective, hepatitis C elimination in people who inject drugs is critical,” study coauthor Elana Rosenthal, MD, said during a press briefing at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. “People who inject drugs are the main progenitors of ongoing transmission of hepatitis C. However, they are often denied access to hepatitis C treatment due to concerns about their ability to take medication consistently and achieve cure. This is especially true amongst patients with challenging demographic factors, frequent drug use, and those not on treatment for opioid use disorder. However, there are limited data on hepatitis C adherence in people who inject drugs outside of vigorous clinical trial settings.”

In an effort to understand whether a marginalized population with ongoing injection drug use could adhere to HCV treatment, and how this adherence would impact cure, Dr. Rosenthal and her associates enrolled 100 subjects in ANCHOR, a single-center study evaluating HCV treatment in patients who have chronic HCV, opioid use disorder, and ongoing injection drug use. “We did not preferentially enroll patients who we thought we would be most likely to cure, and we did not exclude patients who seemed unlikely to adhere to treatment,” said Dr. Rosenthal, codirector of the DC Partnership for HIV/AIDS Progress hepatitis clinical research program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. “All patients were treated with sofosbuvir/velpatasvir, with a plan to complete 12 weeks of treatment.” Medication was dispensed monthly in bottles containing 28 pills, and patients were seen for monthly visits, mirroring standard clinical care for HCV. The researchers monitored patients for medication adherence through pill counts and evaluated them for hepatitis C cure 12 weeks after treatment.

The median age of the 100 patients was 57 years, 76% were black, 33% had cirrhosis, 51% were unstably housed, 92% had a history of incarceration, and 92% had no income source or relied exclusively on government benefits. “The patients represent an incredibly marginalized population,” she said. At baseline, 58% reported daily or more frequent injection drug use, 33% reported medication-assisted treatment, 29% shared injection drug use equipment within the past 3 months, and 40% met criteria for hazardous drinking based on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT-C).

Of the 100 patients, 59 received 12 weeks of treatment. Of these 59 patients, 28 finished 1-7 days after the anticipated end date, 9 finished between 8 and 14 days late, and 9 patients finished more than 14 days late.

Of the 58 patients who attended an office visit at week 24 of their treatment, 52 (90%) achieved a sustained virologic response. This cure rate was associated with having an HCV viral load less than 200 IU/mL at week 4, and with taking 12 weeks of treatment. Nonsustained virologic response was driven by virologic failure, loss to follow-up, and death.

When the researchers compared subjects who achieved sustained virologic response with those who did not, baseline demographics including frequent drug use, unstable housing status, and not being on medication to treat opioid use disorder were not associated with decreased cure rates. “While we found high rates of treatment completion in this population, because of external factors such as incarceration, hospitalization, and having medications stolen, 13 patients had interruptions in treatment,” Dr. Rosenthal said. “Further, while 21 patients had near-perfect medication adherence, 46 patients took longer than 12 weeks to complete the full treatment course due to intermittent missed doses. However, as long as patients completed the prescribed amount, imperfect adherence was not associated with decreased cure rates.”

Based on ANCHOR’s preliminary results, Dr. Rosenthal concluded that concerns about HCV treatment adherence such as baseline housing status, drug use frequency, and being on medication for opioid use disorder “are not likely to influence treatment outcome of HCV and should not be used to justify exclusion from treatment in this population. The ANCHOR investigation adds to the growing body of literature supporting expansion of HCV treatment to all patients, including people who inject drugs. Treatment of people who inject drugs is a critical factor in HCV elimination and, most importantly, reducing morbidity and mortality in this population.”

Dr. Rosenthal disclosed that she has received grant/research support from Gilead Sciences and from Merck.

Source: Rosenthal E et al. Hepatol. 2018;68[S1], Abstract 18.

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