Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that infects the liver. Children and young people get the disease primarily from their mothers at birth. If the virus is not cleared from the body, either naturally or through drugs to treat it, an acute infection (defined as the first six months following initial infection) can progress to chronic hepatitis C (long term infection, lasting more than six months). Chronic hepatitis C infection increases the risk of scarring of the liver (fibrosis and cirrhosis), liver failure and liver cancer. Peginterferon alfa-2a (Pegasys, Roche Products) and peginterferon alfa-2b (ViraferonPeg, Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD)), in combination with ribavirin are the only treatments currently licensed in the UK for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C in children and adolescents.
Professor Carole Longson, NICE Health Technology Evaluation Centre Director, said: “Hepatitis C is a potentially debilitating condition, and although it rarely causes serious liver damage in children, if left untreated there is a high risk that it will cause liver cirrhosis and eventual liver failure many years down the line. The independent Appraisal Committee concluded that treatment with peginterferon alfa and ribavirin can decrease the hepatitis C virus to undetectable levels, effectively providing the equivalent of a cure for the disease. By widening access to these drugs this guidance will give clinicians and people living with hepatitis C more treatment options. Early successful treatment is also likely to lessen the social stigma that can be associated with hepatitis C infection later in life.”
Until final guidance is issued to the NHS, NHS bodies should make decisions locally on the funding of specific treatments. Once NICE issues its final guidance on a technology, it replaces local recommendations across the country.