Utilizing such methods – transplantation with an infected-Hepatitis C kidney – to expand the supply of available donor organs is daring and risky. Once the kidneys were transplanted, patients were administered a new drug to eradicate the virus.
Pilot studies conducted separately by Johns Hopkins University and the University Pennsylvania found that strategy worked flawlessly.
A total of 10 patients from Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania underwent the procedure. After a 12-week regimen of Zepatier, a new Hepatitis C drug, the Hepatitis C virus was completely eradicated.
“I’m really excited by these results,” said University of Pennsylvania kidney transplant specialist, Peter P. Reese, who co-led the effort with his colleague, David S. Goldberg, liver transplant specialist. “My life’s mission is to help people get more transplants, because there’s such a shortage.”
According to the director of the kidney transplant program at Johns Hopkins, the strategy could potentially make kidney transplant accessible to 500-1,000 more people. This number is based on the many organs that are being discarded daily.
Trials utilizing Hepatitis C-infected kidneys is only the beginning, because surgeons at the University of Massachusetts and University of Pennsylvania have already started preparing to launch new transplant trials, but this time it will involve Hepatitis C-infected hearts. Johns Hopkins also plans to launch a similar study with Hepatitis C-infected livers.
Typically, infected organs are only offered to patients, who have been diagnosed with Hepatitis C. Many of these organs are from donors such as opioid overdose victims. Other than the disease, the drug users’ organs are strong.
There are currently over 99,000 people on the national kidney waiting list. Nearly 17,000 of those people end up getting a kidney transplant each year and another 4 percent die waiting, event though they have extended their lifespan with dialysis.
With a 95 percent cure rate, the new Hepatitis C drugs could potentially put a dent in those statistics.
The University of Pennsylvania is currently working on organizing a multi-center consortium for a larger kidney study.
According to Gilead Sciences’ Harvoni, costs could be a barrier for Hepatitis C treatment, since the most expensive, new drug costs an estimated $94,000 for each course. That expense would be added to the costs of the transplant and drugs needed to prevent organ rejection.
When comparing these combined costs to a year of dialysis, which is nearly $75,000, insurers may be willing to pay for the Hepatitis C treatment.
The authors noted that the disease could be cured with fewer than 12 weeks of treatment.
“That’s our next step,” he said. “Testing shorter treatment to cut the cost.”