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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Industry and academia unite to propel Australia closer to Hepatitis C elimination

Health Industry Hub | June 21, 2023 |

Pharma News: Nearly half of the estimated 124,000 individuals living with Hepatitis C in Australia remain unaware of their infection or have been unable to access treatment due to various barriers.

One of the major roadblocks hindering progress in testing and treatment lies in the current diagnostic pathway, which necessitates multiple visits for confirmation of exposure and active infection, as well as treatment initiation. Consequently, individuals often experience loss to follow-up, a phenomenon exacerbated among populations burdened by high Hepatitis C rates.

New point-of-care Hepatitis C testing technologies are set to revolutionise the landscape. These tests, capable of detecting current infection within a mere hour, eliminate the need for multiple visits and offer diagnoses and treatment in a single visit.

“These new tests enable diagnoses and treatment in a single visit, overcoming the barrier of multiple visits that frequently leads to loss to follow-up,” said Lead investigator Professor Jason Grebely from the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The TEMPO Pilot study, initially funded by SPHERE’s Infectious Disease, Immunity, and Inflammation (Triple I) Clinical Academic Group as a seed grant, joined forces with the Kirketon Road Centre, South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD), and the New South Wales Users and AIDS Association (NUAA) to evaluate an intervention integrating point-of-care Hepatitis C testing, nursing care, and consumer-based support. The primary goal was to facilitate same-day testing and treatment.

Remarkable outcomes emerged from this pilot project, with 101 participants undergoing testing, of which 27% were found to have current Hepatitis C infection. Astonishingly, 81% of those diagnosed initiated treatment.

Buoyed by the critical evidence from the TEMPO Pilot study, the National Australian Point-of-Care Testing Program was set into motion. This visionary program scaled up point-of-care Hepatitis C testing across 90 sites nationwide, including community health services and prisons.

The initial funding of $75,000 for the TEMPO Pilot study acted as a catalyst, propelling the initiative to secure an additional $17 million in funding from the Australian Government and industry players, including the NHMRC, MRFF, and pharmaceutical companies like Gilead Sciences, Cepheid, and AbbVie.

Since 2022, over 10,000 tests have been performed, identifying 1,248 people with Hepatitis C. Encouragingly, 77% of these individuals have already begun treatment, marking a significant step towards their recovery.

Professor Grebely and his team are now set on expanding the program even further. Recognising the pressing need to deliver point-of-care Hepatitis C testing on a larger scale, they are determined to facilitate increased testing and treatment to achieve the ultimate goal of Hepatitis C elimination. To accomplish this, they plan to employ a multidisciplinary approach, bringing together experts in implementation science, epidemiology, social sciences, diagnostic testing, mathematical modelling, health economics, and consumer-led research.

This next stage of the project aims to identify the barriers and facilitators for implementing point-of-care testing and treatment, and develop specific strategies to embed these changes into practice and bring them to a nationwide scale. Clinical trial capacity will be expanded, with research training provided across more than 360 health services throughout the country, engaging professionals who have not previously been involved in research.

What started as a small seed grant for the TEMPO Pilot study has now blossomed into a national initiative that could potentially lead Australia to achieve the World Health Organization’s target of eliminating Hepatitis C by 2030.

Professor Grebely expressed his deep gratitude, stating, “I truly believe that the initial seed funding from SPHERE’s Triple I Clinical Academic Group to pursue this project provided a catalyst and the initial data to facilitate national funding. We’ve made significant gains in improving our testing rates and are closer to achieving Hepatitis C elimination and improving the quality of care for patients in Australia.”

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