Dr. Lisa Barrett, a researcher at the Division of Infectious Diseases at Dalhousie Medical School and the Nova Scotia Health Authority, recently launched an investigation on the immune properties of hepatitis C. It is currently underway at Prince Edward Island’s provincial correctional center.
Dr. Barrett explained that while today’s hepatitis C patients can enjoy a cure rate of 90% to 97%, without having to worry about harsh side effects thanks to modern oral treatments, patients in correctional facilities have very limited access to these drugs. “Less than 1 percent of the general population is infected with hepatitis C, but the infection rate soars to 23 percent in corrections facilities in Canada,” Dr. Barrett said. “To eliminate hepatitis C, we must treat the offender population.”
Older generation hepatitis C treatments would need to be administered intravenously and would cause many debilitating side effects, making them a poor treatment option within a correctional facility. When Prince Edward Island first started funding oral hepatitis C treatments, Dr. Barrett was quick to think of a collaborative study.
“With the province treating hepatitis C aggressively in the community, we knew we could make a real impact on the virus if we could treat offenders as well,” she noted. “Beyond providing effective treatment, this study will help us assess the feasibility of treating hepatitis C in corrections settings, while shedding light on the new drugs’ potential to protect against re-infection.” It is important to note that this form of hepatitis does not have a vaccine, so prevention and containment of the infection is top priority.
Dr. Barrett and her fellow investigators will be providing about 60 offenders a whole year’s course of AbbVie Corporation’s Holkira Pak. Upon completion of treatment, Dr. Barrett and her team will monitor the willing participants for another year for any side effects or reinfection — regardless of whether they remain in the facility or have reentered the community.
This Prince Edward Island study was commissioned by the Nova Scotia Health Authority as one of its first steps to starting a multi-site investigation across several correctional facilities in the region, following approval of the drug in all Atlantic Provinces. “We are grateful to the PEI Department of Justice and Public Safety for making it possible for us to launch a pilot study on the Island,” said Dr. Patrick McGrath, integrated vice-president of research, innovation & knowledge Translation for the Nova Scotia Health Authority and IWK Health Centre. “This is an important first step in addressing hepatitis C not only in corrections settings but in the broader community.”