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Expert: Eliminating HCV ‘sounds ambitious, but I think it’s possible’



Weighing treatment options

The most common oral regimens for chronic HCV include sofosbuvir/ledipasvir, sofosbuvir/velpatasvir, and glecaprevir/pibrentasvir. They achieve cure in 93%-100% of cases.

“HCV can be cured; it can be eradicated from the body long term,” Dr. Gonzalez said. “The choice of regimen, treatment duration, and use of ribavirin depends on the presence/absence of cirrhosis, prior treatment experience, and the genotype.”

All six forms of the HCV genotype can be treated with oral medication, he added, and methadone, bupropion, and naloxone are safe to use during therapy.

Reinfection following HCV treatment occurs infrequently. Dr. Gonzalez cited a randomized, controlled trial presented as an abstract at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. That study’s researchers found that – among 199 patients on opioid-replacement therapy who were receiving direct-acting antiviral therapy, in whom greater than 50% were actively using drugs – the rate of reinfection at 3 years was 1.8 reinfections/100 person-years.

“That’s lower than people expect,” Dr. Gonzalez said.

How to boost screening

Electronic health record systems can be used as an important tool to increase HCV screening in health care settings.

In 2017, researchers published an analysis of three randomized trials carried out at three separate primary care settings to improve screening for HCV: repeated mailings, an EHR best practice alert (BPA), and patient solicitation (Hepatology 2017 Jan;65[1]:44-53). They evaluated HCV antibody testing, diagnosis, and costs for each of the interventions, compared with standard-of-care testing.

The investigators found that the BPA intervention had the lowest incremental cost per completed test – $24 with fixed start-up costs, including technical design and development of the BPA system; $3 without fixed start-up costs. The BPA intervention also had the lowest incremental cost per new case identified.

Other efforts to expand access to screening and treatment are underway.

In 2019, Louisiana health officials negotiated a one-time fee for unlimited access for 5 years to sofosbuvir/velpatasvir (Epclusa) to treat the estimated 30,000 patients on Louisiana Medicaid and in that state’s department of corrections who have HCV.

“The goal is 90% cure; the burden is on the state health department to screen, diagnose, and dispense medication,” Dr. Gonzalez said.

Also in 2019, the state of Washington used an open bidding process to negotiate access to glecaprevir/pibrentasvir (Mavyret) for the state’s Medicaid population who have HCV.

“Those states are setting the pace,” Dr. Gonzalez said. “They are showing examples of how we can start implementing a process to treat these vulnerable populations.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization set a goal of eliminating viral hepatitis as a major public health threat by 2030.

“That sounds ambitious, but I think it’s possible,” Dr. Gonzalez said. “It’s important to address these high-risk populations: the incarcerated, people who use drugs, and the homeless, because those are the groups that have a high prevalence of HCV – mainly through injection drug use.

“If we don’t address that population, and we only target the general population, we’re going to have a continual source of transmission,” Dr. Gonzalez warned. “In that case, we would never be able to achieve elimination.”

Dr. Gonzalez disclosed that he is a member of the speakers bureau for AbbVie and Salix.

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