HepaCute is a European research network coordinated by the Klinikum Universitaet München, Germany (Prof Helmut Diepolder).
HepaCute is supported by the European Commission through the Health Cooperation programme of the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. It is part of a joint initiative between the European Commission and the Egyptian Science and Technology Development Fund (STDF) to fight Hepatitis C infection.
Chronics hepatitis C is one of the most common chronic viral infections of humans and a major cause of chronic liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer. More than 170,000,000 persons world-wide are chronically infected and about 4 million new infections occur each year with 50-85% of patients progressing to chronic hepatitis C. In some Mediterranean countries, like Egypt, the situation is particularly worrying, where the prevalence rate is as high as 15%, resulting in incidence rates of 6.8 per 1,000 person years.
Once chronic infection is established, antiviral treatment is effective in only 40-50% of the patients. In contrast, early treatment during the acute phase of infection can resolve infection in 95% of cases and abrogate viral persistence. Thus, treating HCV infected patients during the acute phase of infection provides a unique opportunity to prevent new cases of chronic hepatitis C. However, early treatment can be avoided in the 40-50% of symptomatic patients who resolve acute HCV infection spontaneously, obviating the need to treat patients with an expensive drug (estimated cost of one year treatment of 20,000 €) that has a high frequency of adverse effects.
Currently there is no marker to predict spontaneous viral clearance and to guide treatment decisions, which is the main focus of the HepaCute project.