A team from Dalhousie University hopes to treat and cure 60 hepatitis C patients by testing the effectiveness of a new drug called Holkira on offenders at the provincial jail in P.E.I.

One in five offenders are infected with the hep C virus. That's a rate far higher than the general population.

The effects of the virus cost the health system millions of dollars every year. Researchers already know the new generation of hep C drugs work, but they want to know how well they work among the most vulnerable — offenders in Canada's jails and prisons.

Dr. Lisa Barrett, an assistant professor at Dalhousie and a clinical scientist with the infections disease division of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, says offenders with hep C are generally knowledgeable about the disease and are excited to be able to access the health care needed to treat it.

Study will last a year

Researchers from Dalhousie will give offenders a drug called Holkira and follow up for a full year afterwards to measure changes — and hopefully improvements — to the offenders' immune systems. They'll also keep tabs on who becomes re-infected with the virus, through high-risk activities such as use of dirty needles.

"There's no way that we are going to eliminate hepatitis C, as a viral infection, either in the country, for Canadians, or in the world, until we treat everybody," said Barrett.

Karen MacDonald, the director of community and correctional services with the Department of Justice and Public Safety, hopes the study will improve people's health.

"We saw it as an opportunity to not only support our offenders in custody, but also to have an impact on the public health situation in Prince Edward Island," she said.

The company that manufactures Holkira is paying for the study. It declined to say how much it will cost.