Background of the Hepatitis C Research Initiative

Since 1999, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) have collaborated to support, promote and enhance hepatitis C research and training in Canada. The CIHR Hepatitis C Research Initiative is managed by the CIHR Institute of Infection and Immunity (CIHR-III) under the leadership of Dr. Charu Kaushic.

Hepatitis C virus is highly transmissible and often leads to chronic infections. These chronic infections are associated with progressive liver disease that can result in liver failure and liver cancer. Thanks to major developments in hepatitis C research, treatments are now available that can cure over 90% of people chronically infected with hepatitis C. This has changed the public health and health research landscape. Even with a cure, challenges remain. For example, it is estimated that 44% of Canadians living with hepatitis C remain undiagnosed. Hepatitis C also disproportionately affects certain populations (called priority populations) who are often not reached by existing prevention and treatment strategies or remain at risk of reinfection. And while emerging data shows that curing hepatitis C reduces the risk of liver complications, the long-term health outcomes following a cure remain unclear.

In 2015, CIHR-III and PHAC funded a National Hepatitis C Collaborative Network. This investment of close to $5 million supported research in two overarching streams: biomedical and clinical research; and research with direct public health relevance. The primary objective of this investment was to create a cohesive, collaborative research program in Canada linking researchers, knowledge users and decision makers from multiple pillars and jurisdictions across the country.

CIHR-III and PHAC continue to support a national collaborative research program for the Hepatitis C Research Initiative (2020-2025). This program builds on previous achievements and aims to meet the global targets endorsed by the Government of Canada to reduce the health impact of hepatitis C by 2030, as described in Reducing the health impact of sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections in Canada by 2030: A pan-Canadian STBBI framework for action and Accelerating our response: Government of Canada five-year action plan on sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections. This program focuses on hepatitis C prevention, reaching the undiagnosed and improving the long-term health outcomes of people cured of, or living with, hepatitis C.

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