New Pill May Help Those With Untreatable Hepatitis C

A combination pill of two experimental drugs had positive results in a small group of patients.

A new study found an experimental drug could help treat a previously untreatable strain of hepatitis C.
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A new experimental drug may give hope to people with an untreatable form of the hepatitis C virus, a new study finds.

A team of researchers from the Texas Liver Institute and the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Science tested 100 patients with a type of hepatitis C (HCV) that typically does not respond to existing treatments. That strain, genotype 1 hepatitis C, is the most common form in the United States and Europe.

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If left untreated, the virus can lead to severe and possibly fatal liver damage. But current treatments are inconvenient for even the patients who do respond to them, consisting of a combination of pills and injections that can last for up to 48 weeks. According to the study, the current treatment options also have adverse side effects, such as flu-like symptoms, depression, anemia and loss of appetite.

But in a study released Tuesday, the researchers found that a new pill that combines two drugs, sofosbuvir and ledipasvir, which would be taken over a much shorter time frame (12 weeks), was successful in essentially eliminating the strain of hepatitis C that is currently untreatable.

"Our data lend support to the possibility of effectively treating all patients with genotype-1 HCV with a brief, all-oral, once-daily regimen that has no known safety issues," the study says.

The viral infection is spread through the blood, and most often happens when people share needles or other equipment to inject drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And before it was standard to screen blood transfusions for hepatitis C, some people even contracted the virus through blood transfusions and organ transplants in the early 1990s.

Although the number of incidences has fallen in recent years, the CDC estimates that there were hundreds of thousands of new infections in the late 1980s. In 1989, for example, the organization estimates 291,000 people contracted the virus, compared with 17,000 in 2010.

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Margaret Hellard, a professor at the Burnet Institute in Australia, said in an article that while the findings were promising, the effectiveness of the pill needs to be examined in a larger and more representative sample.

"Once fully assessed and confirmed in larger, multicentre trials, the ... combination pill has the potential to simplify HCV treatment delivery," Hellard said. "A single pill effective for most individuals with HCV genotype 1 could allow easy delivery to many patients."

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