Curative Hepatitis C Drugs Can Lead to Less Liver Transplants

Antiviral drugs can spare livers for patients with other liver diseases.

A recent study suggests that the creation of curative antiviral hepatitis C virus (HCV) drugs can create more liver transplant opportunities for people with other liver diseases.

Only about one-third of Americans who need a liver transplant receive one, according to a study published by the American Journal of Managed Care. The most common reason for needing a transplant is due to HCV-related cirrhosis.

"The inadequate supply of liver donors in the United States is a real problem," said lead researcher Anupam Jena, MD. "People die every day of liver disease because a suitable organ never materializes. By curing patients of HCV before they become sick enough to need a new liver, new HCV drugs shorten the waiting lists and make more livers available to patients with other illnesses."

Researchers developed an epidemiologic-economic model that included trends data on chronic liver disease with liver transplant allocation models that estimate the effects of systematic HCV screening and treatment on the demand for liver transplants, according to the study.

Researchers found that systematic HCV screening and treatment could reduce late-stage liver disease, with 10,500 livers spared over a 20-year period.

The study estimates that 7300 livers would be transplanted into patients with other liver diseases and the remaining livers would be transplanted into people who did not get screened for HCV or who are unresponsive to HCV treatment. Researchers said their findings can be applied to a broad range of diseases, not just liver disease.

Improvements in coronary artery disease management can mean that people will need fewer heart transplants in the future. These hearts can be spared and transplanted into other patients, according to the study.

"For any disease in which organ transplants are in short supply, our study suggests a novel pathway by which treatment of a single disease may save lives of those with other diseases by sparing organs for transplant," study co-author Darius Lakdawalla, PhD concluded.