SEATTLE – New hepatitis C infections among HIV-positive men who have sex with men (MSM) were halved in the Netherlands by unrestricted access to direct-acting antivirals (DAAs), primarily ledipasvir/sofosbuvir tablets (Harvoni), according to Dutch investigators.
Since 2015, DAAs have been available to all newly acquired hepatitis C virus (HCV) patients without restriction. Due to the high cost of the drugs, payers in the United States and some other Western countries limit access to only patients with severe liver disease.*
The Dutch government, however, requires insurers to cover them, and has negotiated price discounts with makers. “The price that is paid is secret,” but it’s less than the standard cost of, for instance, €45,000 for a 3-month course of [ledipasvir/sofosbuvir] in the Netherlands, said senior investigator Bart Rijnders, MD, an infectious diseases assistant professor at Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam.
Thecompared the incidence of acute HCV (aHCV) in HIV-positive MSM in 2014, before unrestricted access to DAAs, to the incidence of aHCV in 2016, after limits were lifted. The investigators used data from 18 HIV treatment centers spread across the Netherlands, capturing about 80% of Dutch MSM being treated for HIV.
In 2014, there were 93 aHCV infections diagnosed among the men, translating to an incidence of 11.2 cases per 1,000 person-years of follow-up (95% CI, 9.1-13.7 cases). In 2016, there were 49 aHCV cases, an incidence of 5.5 cases per 1,000 person-years (95% CI, 4.1–7.2, P less than .001). At the same time, there was a substantial increase in new syphilis cases, indicating that the 51% reduction in aHCV over 2 years was not due to changes in behavior.
Meanwhile, “within 14 months after these drugs became available to all, 75% of the HIV-positive MSM in the Netherlands were cured of their infection,” Dr. Rijnders said at the Conference on Retroviruses & Opportunistic Infections in partnership with the International Antiviral Society.
Ledipasvir/sofosbuvir was the DAA used by about 90% of the men.
In short, unrestricted access to DAAs wiped out the infection so that men were no longer passing it to other men. The results are “an example of what is possible if you search for HCV and treat it as soon as you find it. You cure patients and prevent new infections. In the long run, you may save money,” he said, especially as more DAA options come on the market and prices fall.
Almost all the subjects were seen in their HIV clinic at least twice a year. An uptick in liver enzymes triggered HCV testing. The investigators checked positive results against patients’ own stored blood samples to distinguish new from chronic infections.
The study wasn’t funded, but Dr. Rijnders is a paid researcher for Merck’s DAA option, elbasvir/grazoprevir (Zepatier).
*This story was updated on February 24, 2017.