Spotlight on hepatitis research

Hepatitis research hit the headlines in 2014 when a clinical study known as the “Turquoise-II trial” revealed that a new treatment cured more than 90% of patients with hepatitis C with 12 weeks of tablets. This breakthrough does indeed mark a turning point in treatment of the hepatitis C virus – or HCV as it is often called. It’s for that reason that we’ve decided to shine a spotlight on hepatitis C research onWorld Hepatitis Day 2014.

It’s only by doing research that we will make progress in treating diseases.  And that’s what’s happening right now with hepatitis C – we’re making rapid progress. Previously, treatment focused on boosting the immune system with interferon injections over six or 12 months. But this approach came with difficult side effects and failed to cure three people in every ten treated.

Thanks to research we now have a revolutionary treatment approach. A new generation of oral drugs are being used to block the virus and stop it from replicating – leading to successful results in nine out of ten cases. This leap forward in treatment not only brings great benefits for HCV patients, it also means that we now have a real prospect of eradicating hepatitis C from the population – without using a vaccine.

Of course we must be mindful that there are many variations of viral hepatitis. Each requires completely different treatments. But hepatitis C is one of the two biggest killers, hepatitis B being the other. World Hepatitis Day provides us with an opportunity to raise awareness about the new generation of treatments in development, whilst highlighting the important role that UK research plays in combating worldwide diseases. We are now seeing patients being cured where previous treatments failed – the impact that has on people’s lives is phenomenal.

The Turquoise-II trial is just one of many clinical research studies looking at these new drugs. On these webpages you’ll find out more about how we’re working together to beat hepatitis C.

Dr Stephen Ryder, National Clinical Specialty Lead for Hepatology, November 2014

*Please note that patient names used are not real names

Hepatology research isn’t just about hepatitis; it covers all diseases of the liver, biliary tree and pancreas.  The Hepatology Specialty supports research across all of these areas. You can find out more by visiting the other Hepatology Specialty webpages and you can learn about how we support clinical research studies in the NHS by visiting the Clinical Research Network webpages.

The Hepatology Specialty members have helped deliver a number of initiatives over recent years to help boost hepatology research so that more studies happen and more patients can take part:

  • Patient centred There is a real appetite for research amongst hepatitis C patients. We want to harness the power of patient groups in helping people access new drugs in clinical trials – over one third of patients participating in a recent primary biliary cirrhosis study (a form of autoimmune liver disease) were recruited via patient groups. In response, the Hepatology Specialty is linking with The Hepatitis C Trust to discover what types of research studies HCV patients want to access and how they want to access them.
  • Focus on delivery Nine out of the last ten commercial viral hepatitis studies that we have supported have been delivered 100% to time and target. This is above the Clinical Research Network’s average (last financial year 73% of all commercial contract studies were delivered 100% to time and target). This combined with the Network’s community of well-connected and research-active clinicians makes the UK an attractive destination for commercial hepatitis research. And with more commercial contract studies, comes better access to cutting edge treatments for NHS patients. THESE FUGURES WERE PUBLISHE DIN 2014.
  • Wider reach Before the Network moved to its new structure (in April 2014) a new sites initiative aimed to make sure that each Local Research Network area had at least one hospital site that was active in hepatology research – that equated to 25 sites across England. Those sites continue to deliver hepatology studies within the new Clinical Research Network structure which means that more patients can access hepatology research closer to home.
  • Working collaboratively Gastroenterology (digestive disorders) and Hepatology (liver disorders) are two areas of medicine that overlap. The Hepatology Specialty is working together with the Gastroenterology Specialty and the British Society of Gastroenterology to help identify priority areas for new research. This led to hepatology and gastroenterology featuring strongly in a recent NIHR funding call. Hepatology Specialty member, Dr Ellie Barnes, (see researcher’s perspective section above) describes how the Clinical Research Network is contributing to STOP HCV and HCV Research UK which are both national research initiatives targeting hepatitis C.

*The data referenced on these pages relates to viral hepatitis and was extracted from the NIHR CRN Open Data Platform on 27 June 2014. (Search terms: “Hepatitis, HCV, HBV, HEV”. Alcoholic Hepatitis has been excluded.)