About the Hepatitis C Research Initiative

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Infection and Immunity (CIHR-III) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) are working collaboratively to support, promote and enhance hepatitis C associated research and training in Canada. This document provides background information and a summary of the PHAC/CIHR Hepatitis C Research Initiative.

Hepatitis C is a global health problem with an estimated 170 million people infected. PHAC estimates that 250,000 people in Canada are infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and between 3,200-5,000 individuals are newly infected each year. Injection drug use is the most significant exposure route for HCV in Canada, accounting for approximately 60 per cent of all HCV infections. Although some are able to overcome the virus, the majority of persons infected with HCV are chronically infected. Following a long latency period of one to three decades, up to one-third of those infected are expected to develop cirrhosis followed by end stage liver disease. As a result, the burden of HCV on health-care and social systems is considerable and therefore prevention and the need to control hepatitis C transmission cannot be overemphasized.

The goal of the PHAC/CIHR Hepatitis C Research Initiative is to support on-going epidemiological, clinical and biomedical hepatitis C research and to promote, support and enhance a socio-behavioural research focus. It also includes support for an inter-disciplinary training program component allowing for continued momentum and enhanced research capacity to combat hepatitis C through a process of education and research programs, as well as collaborative knowledge translation and dissemination.

Background

A joint five-year hepatitis C research initiative was launched in 1999 as part of the federal government’s response to the Krever Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada. 
 
The goal of the initiative was to fund a broad-based research agenda aimed at supporting hepatitis C research projects—operating grants and personnel awards—to further understand HCV infection and reduce the burden of hepatitis C through the generation, application and use of new knowledge.

In 2004, additional funds were provided to CIHR for two years to maintain momentum the initiative had generated and to support the ongoing hepatitis C research projects and in 2006, funds were provided to support a training program focused on Hepatitis C research. CIHR currently funds more than $12 million to support hepatitis C research in Canada.

In 2008, as part of the federal government’s commitment to a renewed hepatitis C research program, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between PHAC and CIHR was signed to support the new PHAC/CIHR Hepatitis C Research Initiative.

Research in Action

The PHAC/CIHR Hepatitis C Research Initiative is supporting experienced and committed hepatitis C researchers who are developing new knowledge that contributes to evidence-based health policies, programs and interventions.  Research leads to better treatments, therapies and vaccines and, more effective public health responses, practices, guidelines, and quality assurance practices. 

The initiative is supporting hepatitis C research in four key streams:

  • Biomedical/Clinical;
  • Knowledge Translation;
  • Psychosocial/Behavioural/Epidemiology Stream; and
  • Training.

Biomedical/Clinical

  • Developing novel strategies to prevent and treat liver cancer, specifically among chronically infected HCV patients.
  • Designing future generation HCV vaccines and novel virus protein-based therapies.
  • Developing novel strategies to help improve the delivery of health services to those affected by polysubstance abuse, psychosis and viral infection.
  • Creating a viral hepatitis northern network: a platform for addressing viral hepatitis in the Canadian North.
  • Understanding the molecules of HCV to provide new avenues of treatment.

Knowledge Translation

  • Developing an action plan to address HIV and HCV in Atlantic Canada to help shape policy and improve the quality of life of those affected by HIV and HCV.
  • Understanding the harm reduction needs of people who smoke drugs for the prevention of HIV and HCV transmission.
  • Addressing HIV and HCV vulnerability of young Aboriginal people who use drugs.

Psychosocial/Behavioural/Epidemiology

  • Understanding the role of contextual and neighbourhood factors of injection drug users to help inform public health authorities for the future planning of prevention programs for injection drug users.
  • Examining the impact of prevention, treatment, enforcement, and harm reduction strategies on rates of initiation into injection drug use among high-risk youth.
  • Investigating and addressing barriers to HIV and HCV care among injection drug users.

Training

  • Providing a unique, multidisciplinary HIV and HCV training environment to coordinate and foster the mentorship of the next generation of outstanding HIV and HCV researchers across Canada.
  • Developing a Canadian team of experts from clinical, social and basic sciences to address the diverse and complex issues posed by chronic HCV.
  • Training of biomedical researchers in different disciplines to solve complex infectious diseases problems.

See CIHR Funded Research Database for further information on hepatitis C research projects.

The PHAC/CIHR Hepatitis C Research Initiative is addressing a major global health concern. Together, PHAC and CIHR are building an important research strategy with clearly defined research priorities to address an important infectious disease problem.