Although highly effective oral direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) provide clinicians with the opportunity to reduce the substantial disease burden associated with hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in the United States, the promise of these agents cannot be realized without the expansion of HCV screening and treatment capacity, according to a report published online in Hepatology.

Working with his colleagues, Dr. Jagpreet Chhatwal of the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Technology Assessment and of the department of radiology at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston, utilized a validated projection model previously developed by this research team to estimate the numbers of people in the United States who will die, develop hepatocellular carcinoma, and develop decompensated cirrhosis over the next 35 years ( Hepatology. 2016 Mar 25. doi: 10.1002/hep.28571 ).

The results of the model provided an estimate of 320,000 for the cumulative number of HCV-associated deaths in individuals treated with oral DAAs from 2015 to 2050. In addition, the projected cumulative incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma was 157,000, and the projected cumulative incidence of decompensated cirrhosis was 203,000 in individuals treated with oral DAAs from 2015 to 2050. Furthermore, the projected number of liver transplants for those on DAAs between 2015 and 2050 was 32,000.

When assessing the variables that most heavily influenced the projections, the authors said that most of the ongoing burden of HCV is related to the proportion of infected individuals who remain unaware of their infection status.

Despite such grim predictions, the research suggests hope remains, the authors said. With the same model, changing the rate of treatment from 150,000 patients per year in 2014 to 280,000 patients per year from 2015 onward would result in large reductions in the projected disease burden. For example, 8,600 cases of decompensated cirrhosis, 5,400 cases of hepatocellular carcinoma, 9,700 liver-related deaths, and 900 liver transplants would be prevented. These numbers would increase further if the annual treatment rate was increased to 500,000 patients per year from 2015 onward, preventing 12,000 cases of decompensated cirrhosis, 7,400 cases of hepatocellular carcinoma, 13,500 liver-related deaths, and 1,400 liver transplants. These model-based results emphasize the importance of expanding treatment capacity, as well as HCV screening efforts, the investigators said.

The results are important for the planning and distribution of health care resources and personnel in order to ensure that they match both current and future treatment demands, the investigators added. As an example, they highlighted their projection indicating that the number of clinicians and facilities offering HCV treatment would need to increase substantially over the next 3-4 years. Toward this end, they suggested that primary care physicians or infectious disease specialists be incorporated into HCV treatment capacity expansion.

This project was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health and Gilead Sciences. No conflicts of interest were declared.