Improved treatments offer hope for eradication of viral liver infection. For decades, people with hepatitis C virus (HCV) have had to endure gruelling treatment regimens that include injections of the drug interferon, which can cause severe nausea and depression. But with the imminent approval of several highly effective oral antiviral drugs, and more on the way, researchers say that eradicating the infection worldwide is now a realistic goal.
Unlike previous HCV treatments, which sought to enhance the immune system with interferon and other drugs, the latest group of oral medications interferes with the virus’s ability to replicate and make proteins. A US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) board recommended two such drugs — simeprevir, made by Johnson & Johnson in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and sofosbuvir from Gilead Sciences in Foster City, California — for approval last week. When each is taken in combination with a drug called ribavirin, the treatment eliminates hepatitis C in around 80% of people.
“This is the first time in the history of humankind that we have a cure for a viral disease,” says pharmacologist Raymond Schinazi of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
Findings from trials of different drug combinations are set to be released this week. A phase II study called COSMOS tested a combination of sofosbuvir and simeprevir in 197 people with HCV who had either not responded to interferon or who had advanced liver fibrosis caused by the virus. After 12 weeks of treatment, the drugs completely cleared the virus in more than 90% of participants.
Another study, led by physician Kazuaki Chayama at Hiroshima University in Japan, treated 220 people with a combination of daclatasvir and asunaprevir, two new drugs from Bristol-Myers Squibb in New York. The cocktail cured 85% of participants. Eric Hughes, lead global medical researcher at the company, says that it plans to submit the drugs for FDA approval in 2014.