Hepatitis C cure now seems possible
Two new studies this week reveal new and more tolerable hepatitis C treatments, suggesting the potential for curing HCV. The findings could help millions of people worldwide who are infected. Researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center announce clinical trial success for a single oral medication taken for twelve weeks. The medication that is a combination of two drugs cured 94 percent and 99 percent of patients with HCV genotype 1 that is found in 75 percent of people with the virus. In another study, a Chinese herb derivative was shown to block entry of the hepatitis C virus into liver cells pre-treated with the compound.
Combination pill for HCV
The two drug combination tested by Beth Israel Deaconess researchers includes the drugs ledipasvir and sofosbuvir. Compared to interferon combined with the antiviral drug ribavirin the single pill medication has fewer side effects with a shorter treatment time. The medication is also an option for patients who are not candidates for treatment with interferon.
"Eliminating interferon and ribavirin from treatment regimens is expected to reduce the incidence and severity of adverse events, to simplify the treatment of patients with HCV infection and to provide an option for patients who are ineligible for the current interferon-based treatments," said Nezam Afdhal, MD, the senior author of the studies, Director of the Liver Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School in a press release.
Side effects of interferon and antiviral drugs include depression, anemia and flu-like symptoms. Treatment to cure hepatitis C takes up to 48 weeks.
"The real advances seen in the ION trials is that the sofosbuvir-ledipasvir combination tablet enables us to treat almost all genotype 1 patients with a short duration of 8-12 weeks of treatment expanding the treatment pool and increasing the overall cure rate," said Afdhal who adds that the the treatment is safe and effective, providing a "new and exciting" new option for hepatitis C treatment.
The findings were presented at the European Association for the Study of the Liver and published by the New England Journal of Medicine yesterday.
Could a Chinese herb stop HCV?
In other findings presented at the International Liver CongressTM 2014, a new compound, SBEL1, was found to stop entry of hepatitis C virus into liver cells pretreated with the compound.
Prof. Markus Peck-Radosavljevic, Secretary-General of the European Association for the Study of the Liver and Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Vienna, Austria, said: "People infected with hepatitis C are at risk of developing severe liver damage including liver cancer and cirrhosis.
In the past, less than 20 percent of all HCV patients were treated because the available treatments were unsuitable due to poor efficacy and high toxicity. Recent advances means that we can now virtually cure HCV without unpleasant side effects. However, the different virus genotypes coupled with the complexity of the disease means there is still a major unmet need to improve options for all populations."
Once hepatitis C enters the cells it spreads by making copies of itself by releasing DNA inside the host cells.
SBEL1 halted virus activity by 95 percent, compared to controls. Researchers noted ribonucleic acid (RNA) levels were 78 percent lower in HCV infected cells treated with the compound, suggesting the Chinese herb derivative might stop spread of the virus to other parts of the body.
The two new treatments are major advances in understanding hepatitis C. Baby boomers are encouraged to be screened for the virus. The sofosbuvir-ledipasvir combination tablet could be especially effective for anyone newly diagnosed with the virus that can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure. Preliminary lab studies show the derivative SBEL1 from a Chinese herb used for centuries to treat inflammation could also halt HCV, potentially curing the disease.