How Abbott Is Leading the Pack to Help Eliminate Hepatitis C

Even after decades of HCV breakthroughs, Abbott's researchers are only getting started.

CHANGING LIVES     |    Nov. 07, 2018

In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a strategy to help countries scale up their responses to help eliminate hepatitis B and C as a public health problem by 2030 through increased access to testing and treatment. Researchers at Abbott are currently working toward this ambitious goal (i.e. 90 percent reduction in new chronic infections, 65% reduction in mortality compared with a scenario in which interventions would continue at the current level).  Though it's certainly a formidable challenge, they believe it is an achievable goal.

Abbott's team has already spent years studying the hepatitis C virus (HCV), continually improving testing so healthcare providers can offer treatment to those who need it the most. Abbott's researchers know better than anyone how a team of motivated scientists can dramatically improve the health of millions around the world.

That's how Gavin Cloherty, Ph.D., Abbott's Director of Infectious Disease Research, spends the bulk of his time — working with partners around the world to put an end to these harmful viruses.

In 2015, Abbott began working with the Georgian National Center for Disease Control, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Gilead Sciences to help eliminate HCV in the Republic of Georgia by 2020 (decreasing prevalence of active infection by 90 percent). Abbott has supported research around the most effective ways to screen, diagnose and monitor treatment among those in Georgia with HCV.

Cloherty says that following the first two years of the program, more than 36,000 people had completed treatment, and of those, 98 percent were considered cured.

"Given what we've learned with this partnership, we're exploring other projects in low- and middle-income countries," he says.

That's what makes Abbott's approach to public health unique: "We do the research needed to understand the appropriate use of the tools that we have and take the effort to develop tools that can significantly help the field," Cloherty adds.

Since this work began, Cloherty and his fellow scientists at Abbott have helped push HCV diagnostics to new heights. What used to take several days is now possible within hours. Abbott's HCV core antigen test, which is available outside the U.S., can confirm active infection from a single patient sample, with one doctor's visit, while still being less expensive than equivalent RNA-based tests. Previously, the diagnosis of chronic HCV infection required additional blood draws and visits, delaying diagnosis and linkage to care. These types of functional breakthroughs can support one-time HCV treatment consultation in areas where hospitals aren't readily accessible for repeat visits. What's more, once a chronic HCV infection is confirmed, a patient can be enrolled in a therapy regimen that can lead to a cure in less than three months.

Another way Abbott scientists stay one step ahead of HCV — as well as the hepatitis B virus and HIV — is monitoring and identifying new strains of these viruses.

"More than 20 years ago, Abbott launched our Global Surveillance Program. We partner with organizations around the world, such as blood centers, hospitals and academic institutions, to collect samples of HIV and viral hepatitis," Cloherty says. "If a new strain is discovered, we check if the current tests can detect it, and if not, we update the tests."

To date, the program touches more than 40 countries across six continents. As the only diagnostics company with such a long-standing and large-scale virus surveillance program, Abbott provides a vital tool to stay ahead of these evolving threats.

At Abbott, we take our responsibility of fighting infectious diseases such as HIV and viral hepatitis seriously because our instruments and tests help screen more than 60 percent of the world's blood supply, adds Cloherty.

That's why the diagnostics work Abbott researchers do is so important: Without properly diagnosing those who need to be treated, the world simply cannot be successful in eliminating viral hepatitis. Abbott is responsible for a huge proportion of the testing advancements in hepatitis research over the past several decades, and we're nowhere near done.

"The real challenge is finding the people who have no idea they have a ticking time bomb inside them," he remarks.

We continue to spearhead the fight against HCV, making groundbreaking scientific leaps and supporting an environment where scientists and engineers can truly improve the lives of people all over the world.