The hepatitis C virus (HCV), formerly known as 'non-A non-B' hepatitis virus, was identified in 1989. This blood-borne virus is endemic worldwide, with an estimated 170 million persons infected, representing approximately 3% of the world population. The estimated prevalence of HCV infection in Switzerland is ranging from 0.7 to 1% of the general population. Long-term morbidity associated with persistent HCV infection includes the development of cirrhosis and primary liver cancer: these long-term sequelae of HCV infection are the primary indication to liver transplantation in Switzerland and many other Western countries.
The Swiss Hepatitis C Cohort Study (SCCS) was established in 2000 as a joint effort between the Swiss Group of Experts in Viral Hepatitis and the Swiss Association for the Study of the Liver. In the opinion of the founding members, large population-based cohort studies were (and still are today) considered a very important tool to confirm or refute working hypotheses on the natural course of chronic hepatitis C and on HCV pathology. The creation of the SCCS was also encouraged by the success story of a sister cohort, the Swiss human immunodeficiency virus cohort, based on a similar concept and structure. In keeping with this, the long-term goals of the SCCS are (1) to set up an infrastructure and investigative network fostering clinical and biomedical research on the natural history of HCV infection and (2) to optimize and standardize the management and treatment of HCV-infected patients. The SCCS is meant to add information on factors that shape progression of HCV infection, thus informing future therapeutic decisions and predictions of the burden of HCV-related diseases at the population level, as well as supplementing epidemiological data collected by the mandatory national surveillance system at the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health. Ethical approval for data and clinical sample collection has been obtained from the 8 participating hospitals' ethics committees since the very inception of the study.
The patients' recruitment began in September 2000, and continues to this very day. As of July 31, 2015, as many as 4,722 anti-HCV-positive persons have been enrolled. The SCCS startup funding came from the Swiss Group of Experts in Viral Hepatitis. From April 2001 to November 2009 and again from January 2014 until now, the financial support of the core structure has been largely provided by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Additional sources of funding, for both the core structure and the scientific projects, have been provided over the years by several public and private institutions, including the Swiss Office for Education and Science and the European Commission. In addition, the SCCS is also supported by the Swiss Hepatitis C Cohort Study Foundation.