HCV Research UK reaches an early milestone

Infograph of Hepatitis C virus image with the words 'Hepatitis C The more you know, the better

A research project aimed at gaining a greater understanding of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection has reached an early milestone.

HCV Research UK – a consortium of leading UK clinicians and researchers backed by the Medical Research Foundation and officially launched in 2013 at the University of Glasgow – has recruited 10,000 HCV-infected patients ahead of its target date of 31 December 2014. 

The patients are taking part in a cohort study collecting clinical data and samples, which provide researchers with vital information about the longer-term impact of the disease.  With the introduction of new and improved treatments for HCV infection, the study comes at a crucial time for patients.  The project has put HCV in the spotlight and is helping to attract additional funding for further research.

Dr John McLauchlan, Associate Director of the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, who co-chairs HCV Research UK with Prof Will Irving at The University of Nottingham, said: “This project was founded out of a desire to set up a resource that would provide opportunities for the research community to have ready access to data and samples to tackle the problems we face with HCV infection in the UK.”

“Year on year, there are growing numbers of people who develop serious liver disease as a result of carrying the virus. The longer they are infected, the greater the risk they will go on to develop liver failure, liver cancer or need a transplant. Research that studies both how the virus causes disease and responds to treatment will ultimately help to guide clinicians in their care of patients and the options they will be able to offer.”

Since enrolment of the first patient in 2012, the network of clinical centres involved in recruiting patients into HCV Research UK has grown from 18 sites to 60. These sites are located throughout Scotland, England and Wales.  Patients are recruited at routine hospital visits where their clinical data is entered into a centralised database. At the same time, blood samples are taken for storage in a biorepository. Since the launch of the programme, HCV Research UK has received multiple requests to use the data and blood samples for research purposes.

One of the major research initiatives to emerge from HCV Research UK is another UK consortium called STOP-HCV (http://www.stop-hcv.ox.ac.uk/home), which was awarded more than £5million from the Medical Research Council to work out the most effective treatment options for those who carry the virus. The research carried out by STOP-HCV will be to the benefit not only of patients, but also to the NHS, as the drugs used to cure HCV are expensive and not always successful. HCV Research UK provides essential data and samples that enable STOP-HCV to achieve its goals.

At present, HCV Research UK is working with NHS England on its Expanded Access Programme, which allows infected patients with life-threatening liver disease access to exciting new therapies that are not yet approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). HCV Research UK is using its network and infrastructure to collect vital data on the outcome of these new treatments, which will be important for assessing their suitability for wider availability to patients. Samples are also being taken to monitor for any signs of resistance of the virus to the drugs.

Dr McLauchlan added: “We are at an exciting time with new therapies that can cure infection more quickly than previous treatments and with fewer side-effects. However, these drugs are only entering the clinic and so HCV Research UK is playing a pivotal role in building a national picture of their effectiveness. This information is essential for healthcare providers and the NHS so that use of the drugs can be optimised for curing infection and the liver disease that is caused by HCV.”