An innovative treatment for hepatitis C, that combines two antiviral drugs, may be able to cure patients with chronic cases of the hep C virus, according to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In the study, which was published in the Aug. 28, 2013 Journal of the American Association, 60 patients with liver damage caused by hepatitis C were given two drugs: ribavirin, a licensed antiviral drug, and an experimental drug called sofosbuvir. Of the 60 patients given this combination drug therapy, approximately 70 percent were clear of hepatitis C after a six-month clinical trial.
Scientists from the NIH believe that this treatment represents an improvement over traditional interferon-based therapies. Interferon is a drug that is traditionally used to cure the hepatitis C virus, but for many people with chronic HCV it can lead to side effects such as depression and a variety of flu-like symptoms.
“There is a pressing need for hepatitis C virus treatments that are less burdensome to the patient, have fewer side effects and take less time to complete,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the co-authors of the study, said. “Building on previous work, this trial provides compelling evidence that interferon-free regimens can be safe and effective.”
Hepatitis C Cure?
The NIH study was conducted in two parts. In the first part, 10 patients with acute or mild liver damage as a result of hepatitis C received daily oral doses of sofosbuvir along with a weight-based allotment of ribavirin for six months. Follow-up testing was conducted 12 weeks after the initial treatment was completed, and then again after 24 weeks. All nine of the patients who completed the antiviral drug regimen tested negative for HCV after both rounds of follow-up tests.
In the second part of the study, 50 patients, 13 of whom had chronic or serious liver damage, were given varying doses of ribavirin as well as sofosbuvir. The patients were divided into two groups: one group was treated with a weight-based dose of ribavirin and the other with a fixed dose of the drug, but both groups received the same amount of sofosbuvir.
Once treatment was complete, the patients were tested four, 12 and 24 weeks later. Of those tested, the majority of patients were found to have undetectable levels of HCV as late as 24 weeks after receiving the ribavirin-sofosbuvir drug therapy.
“We saw an overall cure rate of about 70 percent using regimens that did not use interferon,” Dr. Shyam Kottilil, the principal investigator of the clinical trial, said. “This is an encouraging result, especially considering the proportion of volunteers who had characteristics [of chronic HCV infection].”
The 60 patients who participated in the trial exhibited signs of chronic hepatitis C that could not be treated using conventional, interferon-based therapies. More than 3 million Americans have chronic hepatitis C, which can result in serious liver inflammation and damage if it is not properly treated. However, most people may not be aware that they have hepatitis C due to a lack of obvious physical symptoms.
Hepatitis C is commonly spread as a result of contact with infected blood, most commonly through sharing drug needles and equipment. The virus can also be transmitted through sex with an infected person, though this method of transmission is considered less common.