Funding boost for hep C rapid diagnostic

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Image: Current hepatitis C testing requires up to five visits to healthcare providers before treatment can be prescribed. Burnet’s project aims to reduce this to just one visit.

A Burnet project developing a rapid diagnostic test for hepatitis C received a major boost after being awarded funding through the Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund (VMRAF).

The project, which will speed up access to direct-acting antiviral (DAA) hepatitis C treatment for up to 65,000 Victorians, received a Tier 1 grant in round 3 of the Andrews Government’s funding for local medical research.

Burnet Chief Investigator on the project, Associate Professor Jack Richards, welcomed the funding and said the diagnostic test would help practitioners find Victorians who are unaware they are living with hepatitis C.

“This point-of-care test for chronic HCV infection will allow us to get more people onto treatment sooner,” Associate Professor Richards said.

Associate Professor Richards said that more efficient testing was crucial to get Australians living with HCV on DAA treatment, as many patients are lost to follow-up after a positive test. Current testing can require up to five visits before treatment is prescribed.

“Our aim is to enable this type of testing for hepatitis C at the patient’s first consultation to avoid the need to send off samples for lab-based diagnostic tests and reducing delays in case management,” Associate Professor Richards said.

“We hope that this will allow immediate initiation of curative antiviral drugs for those people who need it, wherever they live.

“This funding has allowed us to work closely with Australian-based diagnostics company, Axxin Pty Ltd, to develop a prototype test that will diagnose active hepatitis C within 30 minutes,” he said.

“This work is ongoing but the funding from the VMRAF has been crucial to demonstrating this feasibility of this new hepatitis C test.”

Hepatitis C virus, one of the leading causes of liver cancer globally, kills around 400,000 people each year. In Australia, there are around 170,000 people living with chronic hepatitis C.

DAA treatment, which is available for free under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in Australia, allows nearly everyone living with HCV infection to be cured.

The VMRAF awards funding to researchers in the early stage of their projects, with an aim of translating their work into positive health and economic outcomes the state.

Now in its fourth year, the $3 million fund leverages matched support from philanthropic, industry and international sources.

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