Associate Professor Richard Harrigan leads effort to screen for drug-resistant form of the disease
A UBC-led project has developed a screening process to ensure that an effective but expensive treatment for hepatitis C (HCV) will be given to only those patients who would benefit from it.
Simeprevir is one of the most effective treatments to eliminate HCV infection. When used in combination with two other agents (interferon and ribavirin), however, almost a quarter of U.S. HCV patients were found to have variants of the virus, with a mutation called Q80K, that responded less well to this therapy.
Without an effective screening procedure for this variant, some HCV patients would receive drugs that are of no or little clinical benefit to them.
To avoid that scenario, Richard Harrigan, an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine and Director of the Laboratory Program at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, in partnership with Janssen Inc., the manufacturer of simeprevir, used population-based DNA sequencing to develop and validate a simeprevir screening test.
With the test now close to completion, Dr. Harrigan will lead the next phase: establishing consistent use of the new test throughout B.C. and Canada. A third component of the project is an analysis of past HCV populations to determine mutation patterns over time.
The research program will determine a baseline of HCV-infected individuals in B.C., as well as characterize the stability of the relevant polymorphism within an individual over time. These data will affect health care and budgetary decisions.
“By applying a similar approach that has been very successful in managing HIV and AIDS, specifically tailoring treatments to match individuals, we have the best chance of eliminating the HCV virus,” Dr. Harrigan says. “These newer therapies are completely changing the landscape of hepatitis C treatment.”
HCV is a blood-borne disease that attacks the liver, which can cause cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure and cancer.
The project has been funded by Genome British Columbia’s User Partnership Program. In B.C., anonymous samples will be supplied by the BC Centre for Disease Control.
“The health of HCV-positive British Columbians stands to be dramatically improved as a result of this project,” says Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC. “Our primary concern, the patient, stands to be in a much better position through personalized treatments and fewer side effects from non-effective drugs. In addition, the genomic screening test will result in significant cost savings to the public health care system – approximately $30,000 for each course of treatment not given to patients who will not benefit from it.”