The initiative was announced ahead of World Hepatitis Day on July 28.
Hepatitis C drugs now cure more than 90 per cent of patients within 8-12 weeks with few side effects. However, new direct acting antivirals are expensive. The virus is a major cause of liver disease, cancer and death and is estimated to affect 200,000 people in the UK. Most of those affected are people who have injected drugs.
In the first study of its kind, researchers will treat up to 500 people who inject drugs over a period of two years in NHS Tayside. Treatment will be offered in a number of settings including pharmacies, addiction services, and prisons.
It is anticipated that this intervention involving major and rapid scale-up of treatment will reduce chronic Hepatitis C in the population of people who inject drugs by two-thirds from 30 per cent to 10 per cent.
The researchers will assess if this intervention also helps people to recover from their addiction and whether there are long-term, cost-effective benefits to the NHS by providing greater access to HCV drugs in the community.
The results of the study will be used to guide clinical practice and policy, and support decision-making by the NHS on whether people who inject drugs with mild liver disease should be targeted for early treatment.
Professor Sharon Hutchinson said: “The study will generate empirical evidence as to whether treating people who inject drugs can reduce the spread of infection. We know that people who inject drugs may become reinfected. However, we also know that the new HCV drugs are highly effective.
“We hypothesise that if HCV treatment is increased sufficiently, eventually the virus could be eliminated. The study will test this using population-level data across the UK.”
Teams of researchers will collaborate on the project from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU); the University of Bristol; University of Dundee; MRC Biostatistics Unit University of Cambridge; Queen Mary University of London; Health Protection Scotland; University of California San Diego; NHS Tayside; Public Health England; Scottish Drugs Forum and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
The study is funded by the National Institute for Health Research. GCU researchers include Professors Sharon Hutchinson, Lawrie Elliott, Paul Flowers and David Goldberg.
World Hepatitis Day takes places every year on July 28, bringing the world together under a single theme to raise awareness of the global burden of viral hepatitis and to influence real change.