DALLAS – The heart transplant team at Vanderbilt University has successfully placed hearts from deceased, hepatitis C virus–positive patients into recipients, and then eradicated the subsequent infection that appeared in most recipients using a standard regimen.
So far, five of nine heart transplant recipients who developed a posttransplant hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection had the infection eradicated using one of the highly effective HCV drug regimens, and an additional three patients from the series are nearing their 12th week without detectable virus following treatment that marks a sustained response, Kelly H. Schlendorf, MD, said at the annual scientific meeting of the Heart Failure Society of America. The ninth patient died after developing a pulmonary embolism during the 7th week on antiviral therapy.
Mitchel L. Zoler/Frontline Medical News
Dr. Kelly H. Schlendorf
The team has also placed hearts from HCV-positive donors into an additional four patients who have not developed HCV infection, for a total of 13 heart transplants performed using hearts that until now have been routinely beyond consideration.
The recipients have been patients in a marginal clinical state and facing a long projected wait on the heart-recipient queue of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), Dr. Schlendorf said in an interview.
These have been “patients with a morbidity and mortality risk from waiting that can be mitigated by expanding the donor pool.” She gave an example of a patient with a left ventricular assist device that required replacement by either a second device or transplant, “so getting the transplant quickly was a good thing,” said Dr. Schlendorf, a cardiologist at Vanderbilt in Nashville.
Based on her analysis of UNOS data, “upwards of 100” and perhaps as many as 300 additional donor hearts could be available annually for U.S. transplants if the organs weren’t excluded because of HCV infection.
The Vanderbilt team has so far approached 15 patients in their program wait-listed for hearts about the possibility of accepting an HCV-positive organ, and all 15 have given their consent, she said. “We spend a lot of time talking with patients and their caregivers about the risks and benefits and possible complications.”
The 13 recipients, starting in September 2016, included 12 patients who were HCV naive and 1 patient with a history of HCV exposure. All 13 received the program’s standard three-drug regimen for immunosuppression.
During close surveillance, 9 of the 13 developed an infection. Patients with genotype 1 HCV received 12 weeks of treatment with ledipasvir plus sofosbuvir. Those infected with genotype 3 received 12-24 weeks of treatment with sofosbuvir plus velpatasvir. Treatment with these direct-acting antivirals meant that patients had to adjust the time when they took their proton-pump inhibitors, and they needed to stop treatment with diltiazem and statins while on the antivirals.
“In the era of direct-acting antivirals, HCV-positive donors may provide a safe and effective way to expand the donor pool and reduce wait-list times,” Dr. Schlendorf said. She noted that in recent years an increased number of potential organ donors have been HCV positive. She also cautioned that so far follow-up has been relatively brief, with no patient yet followed as long as 1 year after transplant.
The direct-acting HCV antivirals are expensive, and some payers established clinical criteria that patients must meet to qualify for coverage of these regimens. “We have not encountered difficulties getting insurers to pay,” Dr. Schlendorf said. Despite the antivirals’ cost there are significant cost savings from fewer days in the ICU waiting for heart transplantation and a reduced need for mechanical support as a bridge to transplant, she noted.