Drug-user study to look at eliminating Hepatitis C virus

Image source, Science Photo Library
Image caption,
Hepatitis C infection can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer

A major new study involving drug users is to explore a way of eliminating the killer Hepatitis C virus.

Hundreds of Scots will take part in the research led by Glasgow Caledonian and Bristol universities.

The virus, a major cause of liver disease and cancer, affects around 200,000 people in the UK, with most having injected drugs.

The £2.8m study will look at whether the virus can be stopped entirely if treatment is sufficiently increased.

Currently, treatment can cure more than 90% of patients within eight to 12 weeks with few side effects, however the cost of new anti-virals is significant.

During the study, researchers will treat up to 500 people in NHS Tayside who inject drugs over a period of two years.

Treatment will be offered in a number of settings including pharmacies, addiction services and prisons.

It is anticipated this "major and rapid scale-up of treatment" will reduce chronic Hepatitis C in the population of people who inject drugs by two-thirds.

The results will be used to guide clinical practice and policy, and support NHS decisions on whether drug users should be targeted for early treatment in the community.

The five-year study has been announced ahead of World Hepatitis Day on Saturday.

Image source, Science Photo Library
Image caption,
It is estimated that there are about 500 to 600 people injecting drugs in and around Glasgow city centre

Prof Sharon Hutchison, who is the joint-lead investigator in the research, said: "The study will generate empirical evidence as to whether treating people who inject drugs can reduce the spread of infection.

"We know that people who inject drugs may become reinfected.

"However, we also know that the new HCV drugs are highly effective.

"We hypothesise that if HCV treatment is increased sufficiently, eventually the virus could be eliminated.

"The study will test this using population-level data across the UK."

Researchers from GCU and Bristol will collaborate with a number of other institutions including Dundee, Cambridge and Queen Mary universities.

Health Protection Scotland, NHS Tayside, Public Health England, the Scottish Drugs Forum, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of California San Diego are also involved.

The study is funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

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