Four Questions with Anu Osinusi: Gilead’s Commitment to People Living with Viral Hepatitis

Stories@Gilead - June 23, 2021

Growing up in Nigeria offered Anu Osinusi her first glimpse of the devastating effects viral hepatitis can have on people’s lives. The country’s large population, coupled with a relatively high prevalence of chronic hepatitis B (HBV) and chronic hepatitis C (HCV), led to significant morbidity and mortality from liver disease, inspiring Anu to pursue her career in medicine, infectious diseases and global public health.

Anu now serves as Vice President, Clinical Research for Hepatitis, Respiratory and Emerging Viruses at Gilead, which has made significant strides in treating HBV and HCV over the years. The company is also now committed to tackling a less common but very severe form of viral infection: hepatitis delta (HDV). Until recently there was no approved treatment, which meant a poor prognosis and significant morbidity and mortality for people living with HDV.

Anu recently spoke with us about how hepatitis research and treatment have changed over her career, why HDV is considered the “forgotten virus” and what’s next for Gilead.

You grew up in Nigeria, where there is a sizable burden of viral hepatitis, and later cared for people living with hepatitis as a physician. How have these experiences impacted your work?
In Nigeria, the social and economic burdens of viral hepatitis were high. Sadly, at the time there were no treatments available, and it was common to come across young adults whose viral hepatitis had led to terminal liver disease or liver cancer.

Later, as a treating physician in the United States, I saw firsthand the impact of viral hepatitis on people’s lives. Having conversations with people living with hepatitis and their loved ones about the lack of effective, tolerable treatment options was quite challenging.

To see where we are today is truly amazing, and the opportunity to help people living with viral hepatitis and their families globally is what inspires me daily in all I do.

How has hepatitis research and clinical care progressed during your career?
Just over a decade ago, the treatments for HCV were grueling. It wasn’t uncommon for people to experience significant side effects, and cure rates were low. We’re now at a place where we have a number of well-tolerated therapies that offer a cure for most people living with HCV. There have also been significant strides made with HBV, where treatments have helped improve clinical outcomes.

For more than 20 years, Gilead has been delivering transformative science and innovation that has changed the trajectory for many people with liver diseases. It’s important that we use this heritage to continue to strive for innovation to address the unmet needs of people living with viral hepatitis today and in the future.

Many people are unfamiliar with hepatitis D. Can you tell us more about this form of viral hepatitis?
HDV is the most serious form of chronic viral hepatitis. It only occurs as a co-infection in individuals who have HBV, and it’s linked to the fastest progression of liver conditions, such as fibrosis, cirrhosis and liver cancer. Currently, there are very limited treatment options available, so people living with HDV typically have a poor prognosis. HDV can have a mortality rate as high as 50% within five years for people living with cirrhosis.

At least 12 million people worldwide are likely currently co-infected with HDV and HBV, however HDV remains underdiagnosed globally.

Many people haven’t heard of HDV, and it’s been called the ‘forgotten virus’ or the 'loneliest virus' because of its low awareness. As is the case with diseases without many treatment options, rates of testing and detection are low.

Why has Gilead expanded its research in viral hepatitis to include HDV?
We remain very committed to this mission of developing transformational therapies for people with life-threatening illnesses. We’ve helped revolutionize the field of HBV and HCV, but we recognize that there are significant unmet needs in HDV. The lessons that we’ve learned from our previous work in HBV and HCV set us in good stead for research in HDV, and we really want to continue making a meaningful impact and improve outcomes for people around the world.