Earlier this month, a group of researchers published a systematic review of studies of hepatitis C virus (HCV) treatment that reached a shocking conclusion: Curing the virus does not prolong life or reduce rates of liver-related illness. According to aidsmap, experts in the field have slammed the paper as compromised by critical limitations.

The findings of the review were published by the Cochrane Collaboration. The researchers analyzed the effect of direct-acting antiviral (DAA) treatment on rates of death, illness and serious adverse health events. The review was based on 138 randomized trials that included 25,232 participants.

Fifty-seven of the trials concerned treatments that have been discontinued or withdrawn from the market. Just 11 studies including 2,996 individuals provided data on sickness and death. The investigators’ meta-analysis of this data found no difference in the rates of sickness and death based on whether individuals received hep C treatment or a placebo.

The overall review had data on only 16 deaths. The study authors did not provide data on how much follow-up time was associated with those study participants’ deaths.

Forty-three studies of 15,587 people showed no difference in serious adverse health events between those receiving DAAs and those who did not.

A major limitation of the review is that most studies provided only very short follow-up periods of just 34 weeks, too short to detect any effect on mortality except in cases involving severe liver disease. Consequently, the paper states that the researchers’ “results can neither confirm nor reject that DAAs have clinical long-term effects.”

One researcher who was not involved in the new paper lambasted its findings by pointing out that the trials included in the review were not designed to assess hep C treatment’s effect on mortality.

By contrast, a recent systematic review of 31 studies of interferon and ribavirin treatment of HCV included a median 5.4 years of follow-up. The authors of that paper found that curing hep C reduced the risk of death by 50 to 80 percent over a five-year period. That review included data on 2,210 deaths, lending much more statistical heft to its findings.

To read the aidsmap article, click here.

To read the study abstract, click here.