Direct-acting antiviral therapy for hepatitis C
delivered by non-specialists such as primary care physicians and nurse
practitioners is safe and effective – even for the most difficult-to-treat
patients – and could potentially help increase the number of people receiving
treatment, according to findings from the ASCEND study presented at the recent
Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI 2016) in Boston.
Interferon-based therapy for
hepatitis C is long and difficult and can cause side-effects that lead many
patients to stop treatment prematurely. It also requires expertise to determine
who needs treatment due to progressive liver disease and when to discontinue
therapy that is likely to be futile, as it only produces a cure about half the
time. The advent of direct-acting antivirals increased the emphasis on viral
load monitoring and drug-resistance mutations. As such, treatment in the
interferon era was generally managed by specialists such as hepatologists or
gastroenterologists, later joined by infectious disease doctors.
antiviral regimens have made treatment much easier, better tolerated and more
effective. Most people can now be cured with 12 or even 8 weeks of therapy and
side-effects are generally mild. The latest EASL guidelines and AASLD/IDSA
guidelines recommend that everyone with chronic
hepatitis C should be considered for treatment rather than waiting until they
develop advanced liver disease. But challenges remain, including the high cost
of therapy and the lack of enough specialists to treat everyone living with the
Sarah Kattakuzhy of the University of Maryland
and colleagues conducted a longitudinal trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness
of hepatitis C treatment driven by primary care providers.
This open-label, phase 4 trial enrolled 600
chronic hepatitis C patients at three community health centres in Washington,
DC, who started treatment between May and November 2015.
About 70% were men, almost all (96%) were
African American, the average age was about 59 years and nearly a quarter were
co-infected with HIV. A majority (72%) had hard-to-treat HCV genotype 1a (the
rest had 1b), 18% had prior hepatitis C treatment experience and 20% had
compensated liver cirrhosis.
Participants were allocated in a non-randomised manner to receive
treatment managed by either a hepatologist or infectious disease specialist
(n = 294), a primary care physician (n = 156) or a nurse practitioner (n = 150).
Providers underwent a uniform three-hour training on the AASLD/IDSA guidelines.
All patients were treated with sofosbuvir/ledipasvir (the drugs in Harvoni) according to label directions.
Only 29 (5%) qualified for 8 weeks of treatment, with the rest assigned to 12
weeks (90%) or 24 weeks (5%).
The primary outcome was sustained virological response, or undetectable
HCV RNA at 12 weeks after completion of treatment (SVR12). Efficacy was reported for 304 people with available SVR12
data, and follow-up is ongoing. Adherence was reported for 409 participants
who completed 12 weeks of treatment, using a composite of adherence at weeks 4,
8 and 12.
Overall, 49 patients discontinued treatment early, mostly
due to loss to follow-up (31 people).
The overall SVR12 rate was 93.8% in an interim, per-protocol analysis of
304 patients with available data. There were no significant differences in
SVR12 rates according to provider type: 96.7% (58 of 60) for those treated by primary
care physicians, 94.9% (75 of 79) treated by nurse practitioners and 92.1% (152
of 165) treated by specialists.
HIV co-infection status had no impact on overall SVR12 (92.0%) or SVR12
by provider type (89.0%, 90.9% and 93.0%, respectively).
However, among the 409 patients who completed 12 weeks of therapy,
adherence was significantly higher among people treated by nurse practitioners
(51.4%) or primary care physicians (49.0%) compared to specialists (19.2%).
"The ASCEND investigation demonstrates that HCV
treatment administered independently by primary care providers and nurse
practitioners is safe and equally effective as care observed with experienced
specialists, inclusive of challenging subpopulations of the epidemic, and
within the largest African-American cohort described to date," the
"The ASCEND model could increase the availability of community-based,
non-specialist providers to significantly expand the scale of HCV therapy, and
bridge existing gaps in the hepatitis C care cascade," they added.