Hepatitis C Research
Epidemiologist Kimberly Page, PhD (right), is leading a team of researchers who are managing part of a national Hepatits C study.
Credit: Furhana Afrid

New Mexico injection-drug users infected with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) could be eligible to join a national study to determine which treatment model works best for them. The study also aims to determine why some patients develop resistance to certain therapies for the treatment of Hepatitis C.

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, or PCORI, recently awarded a five-year, $14 million grant to Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York to administer the study. The University of New Mexico will receive $2.3 million as one of eight partner sites that include Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Harvard Medical School, University of California, San Francisco and others.

The study, “Patient-Centered Models of HCV Care for People Who Inject Drugs,” will include 1,000 participants who have HCV to compare two models of care: directly observed treatment, where providers observe patients taking their medication; and the patient navigator model, where patients take their medications home and receive support and education from public health workers.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus. Today, most people become infected with the virus by sharing needles to inject drugs. Chronic Hepatitis C is a serious disease than can result in long-term health problems, even death. Although effective, safe new treatments called direct-acting antiviral agents (DAAs) have been developed recently, injection drug users rarely get these treatments largely because the treatments are expensive and HCV patients struggle with compliance.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 2.7 million people are infected with HCV in the U.S., and up to 50 percent are not aware of their infection because they are not clinically ill. National data indicate increasing incidence and new outbreaks of HCV, predominantly in young adults in non-urban areas like New Mexico.

”UNM was selected because we have the clinical research infrastructure and support, and we’re committed to understanding and improving health disparities in New Mexico,” says Kimberly Page, PhD, a professor in the UNM Department of Internal Medicine and chief of the Division of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Preventive Medicine, whose team will manage the New Mexico contribution. “HCV is impacting our population, and we are determined to address this health challenge.”

PCORI is an independent, non-profit organization authorized by Congress in 2010 to fund research that will provide patients, their caregivers and clinicians with the evidence-based information needed to make better-informed healthcare decisions. PCORI is committed to continuously seeking input from a broad range of stakeholders to guide its work.