HCV recommendations updated to include patients with limited resources

The HCV treatment recommendations website, www.hcvguidelines.org, today launched a new section to aid clinicians in treatment of specific patient populations.

The guidelines are a collaborative effort by the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD) and the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), along with the International Antiviral Society-USA (IAS-USA).

The section is called, “When and in Whom to Initiate HCV Therapy,” and is designed to help the clinical community prioritize treatment for patients who will derive the most benefit, according to a joint statement from IDSA and AASLD. It also contains information on who to treat to most effectively limit further transmission of HCV.

Barbara Murray, MD

Barbara Murray

The three organizations held a teleconference to launch the site. Barbara Murray, MD, president of the IDSA, moderated the session and introduced the speakers, which included: Donald Jensen, MD, of University of Chicago Medical Center and Panel co-chair for AASLD; David Thomas, MD, of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and panel co-chair for IDSA, who discussed when and in whom to initiate HCV therapy; HCV Next Chief Medical Editor Michael Saag, MD, of The University of Alabama at Birmingham and Panel co-chair for IAS-USA, who discussed how the guidelines will be used; and Henry Masur, MD, of the NIH and IDSA Hepatitis Task Force, who discussed what is coming next for the guidelines.

Jensen highlighted the fact that the three organizations advocate for broad and comprehensive intervention for all patients with HCV, but spoke plainly about the need to treat some patients before others.

David Thomas, MD

David Thomas

“We can’t possibly treat all three to four million people with this disease in the US, so we have to make some decisions about who to treat,” he said.

From a clinical perspective, patients with severe liver disease are at the top of the list, according to Jensen. Specifically, he said that patients with advanced fibrosis or cirrhosis, along with those who have had a liver transplant, represent the populations with the greatest need for urgent treatment.

“Those with less degree of fibrosis but who have life threatening complications of liver disease or more systemic manifestations of HCV can also benefit,” he added. “That is how we think of highest level of urgency.”

Michael Saag, MD

Michael Saag

Patients with less scarring in the liver and fewer systemic symptoms do not require as immediate or urgent treatment, according to Jensen.

“There is no question that treating and curing HCV can markedly reduce the progression of cirrhosis and the incidence of liver cancer, decrease the need for transplant and reduce the all-cause mortality of chronically infected patients,” he said. “It can also reduce transmission and spread of virus to others.”

Cost issues

A number of journalists in the session raised questions about the relationship between the cost of direct-acting antiviral (DAA) therapy and the recommendation to prioritize patients. More specifically, they asked why cost is not taken into consideration in the recommendations.

Thomas said that the main task for the panel was to determine optimal treatment approaches for patients. However, he added: “Determining the cost of these drugs is out of our purview. It is not in our control. We can only control the clinical side. We hope that these cost factors will sort themselves out.”