Every fall, hepatitis and liver disease experts gather to share the latest viral hepatitis research and treatment updates at the Liver MeetingTM . I had the opportunity to attend this year’s meeting, held last month in Boston. The meeting was particularly exciting because it featured new information about many novel hepatitis C treatments currently in development as well as the latest updates about how to best use currently available treatments.
There were numerous conversations about the new standard of care for hepatitis C: triple therapy that involves combining one of two recently approved oral agents with traditional medications (pegylated interferon and ribavirin). Studies shared at the meeting indicated that this triple therapy is offering patients better outcomes—it can cure up to 80 percent of people who complete the treatment—sometimes with shorter therapy than the former standard treatment. The new triple therapy lasts only six to twelve months. However, there was also discussion of the side effects that can complicate or cause some patients to defer or stop treatment prematurely. The race is on to find better treatments that have fewer side effects, work faster, and–most importantly–cure more patients with chronic hepatitis C. According to information shared at the meeting, there are over 30 new hepatitis C drugs in development and there is optimism that some of these new drugs may be able to achieve cure rates approaching 100 percent.. The second generation of new oral drugs is expected to become available within the next two years and even more effective combinations are expected within 5-7 years.
Hepatitis B research also received a lot of attention at the Liver Meeting. New research was presented that seeks to increase what we know about the virus and how it harms the liver, learn more about when people with chronic hepatitis B should start treatment and what treatments are best, how to reduce liver cancer among people with chronic hepatitis B, and what combinations of drugs are most effective in curing hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is preventable and experts shared updates on using medication to prevent transmission from an infected mother to her infant as well as how long the hepatitis B vaccine provides protection.
Organized by the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD), the Liver Meeting is the largest gathering of hepatologists (specialists in diagnosing and treating liver disease) in the world where groundbreaking research, new treatment guidelines, and advancements are presented. The AASLD is the leading organization of scientists and healthcare professionals committed to preventing and curing liver disease and a key community partner in the national response to viral hepatitis.
Representatives of several federal partners engaged in implementing in the Viral Hepatitis Action Plan were actively involved in the Liver Meeting. Dr. Jay Hoofnagle from the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) authored sessions for the Clinical Research Workshop, and Dr. John Ward from CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis presented on the global epidemiology of viral hepatitis at the Federal Focus session lead by colleagues from the National Cancer Institute, NIH. The Department of Veterans Affairs shared preliminary information from their newly established Specialty Care Access Network-Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (SCAN-ECHO) project that enables specialty care teams in large hospitals to support primary care providers in rural or other under-served areas in caring for patients with hepatitis C.
The Viral Hepatitis Action Plan supports improved testing, care and treatment to prevent liver disease and cancer. Critical to reaching these goals are improvements to care and treatment for chronic hepatitis B and C. Members of the AASLD and other health care professionals trained in diagnosing, managing, and treating hepatitis B and C can help by caring directly for patients but also by providing specialty support to health care teams that include primary care physicians and mid-level providers to expand access and help care for patients with viral hepatitis. By working together, we can realize the goals of the Action plan.