Person being tested for hepatitis C

Kirby Institute receives $5M for research to improve hepatitis C testing

News | Published on 13 Feb 2024 by Lucienne Bamford

The grant from the Medical Research Future Fund will enable the national scale up of game-changing point-of-care testing for hepatitis C in community and prisons in Australia. 

The Kirby Institute at UNSW Sydney has been awarded almost $5 million from the Australian Government in a Rapid Applied Research Translation Grant to implement and evaluate new point-of-care testing for hepatitis C in Australia.

Announced on Friday 9 February by the Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler, the funding is part of the government’s $229.46m in funding through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

It is estimate that more than 74,000 Australians are living with hepatitis C, despite availability of therapies that cure the virus in more than 95 per cent of people. 

“We can’t offer hepatitis C treatment to people who don’t know they have the virus, and the current diagnosis pathway requires multiple visits to confirm a diagnosis and initiate treatment. Given that many people living with hepatitis C are from marginalised populations, like people who inject drugs and people who are in person, attending multiple medical appointments can be very challenging,” said Prof Jason Grebely, the Chief Investigator on the project.

“Fortunately, new point-of-care testing technology can detect current hepatitis C infection in one hour, enabling testing and diagnosis in a single visit. We know that this testing pathway is highly successful based on pilot programs we’ve conducted. The next step is to scale the program up nationally.”

The MRFF will support research on the implementation of the national program, to understand barriers and facilitators for implementing point-of-care testing (including what works and why), and to design implementation strategies to enhance hepatitis C point-of-care testing and treatment. As part of this, the researchers will develop a scale-up plan, implementation toolkit, sustainability framework, and knowledge dissemination products to support scale-up and transition towards sustainability.

“This collaborative project involves over 150 stakeholders nationally, including community organisations, researchers, healthcare providers, policy makers, and industry. In particular, I would like to acknowledge our key investigators on this grant from the Kirby Institute, the School of Population Health, and the Centre for Social Research in Health at UNSW Sydney, Flinders University International Centre for Point-of-Care testing, The University of Newcastle, and St Vincent's Hospital Sydney. We are incredibly grateful to the Department of Health and Ageing for their support for the National HCV Point-of-Care Testing Program and to  the MRFF to support this research funding.”

Other Kirby Institute Chief Investigators include Scientia Prof Gregory Dore, Prof Andrew Lloyd, Dr Alison Marshall, Dr Sophy Shih, Dr Richard Gray, Dr Evan Cunningham, Dr Lise Lafferty, Dr Louise Causer, and A/Prof Philip Cunningham.