Patients with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) stand a chance of being permanently cured of the infection as doctors are claiming they have found victory over it. In an international-level study involving 380 patients, a new generation of antiviral drugs was able to clear the HCV from the patients’ bloodstreams during clinical trials, in as little as eight weeks. HCV is the number one cause leading to cirrhosis, liver cancer and transplants in the United States.
The new drugs – some of which have already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – also managed to suppress the most stubborn infections in patients at rates well over 90 percent. The study included researchers from the Texas Liver Institute and UT Medicine San Antonio.
During the clinical trials, a combination of ledipasvir and sofosbuvir – two of the medications developed to cure an HCV patient – managed to eradicate the HCV in 99 percent of the patients in a time span of 12 weeks. When the same combination was given to patients with cirrhosis, a 100 percent success rate was witnessed after 24 weeks of therapy. Treatments on these patients had failed previously. Patients with genotype 1 hepatitis C also showed success results above 95 percent.
The research was conducted at 78 sites, including hospitals and centers in Spain, Germany, England, Canada and the US. The funds for the development of the medications and the running of the trials were provided by biopharmaceutical company, AbbVie, and Gilead Sciences of Foster City, CA.
In the United States, more than three million Americans are afflicted with the hepatitis C virus, of which approximately 75 percent are between the ages 50 and 68. An estimated 15,000 deaths are annually from liver disease in the US. Meanwhile, approximately three percent of the world’s population is also said to have the hepatitis C virus. HCV is an infection that kills more patients than HIV.
The Hepatitis C virus was discovered by scientists about 25 years ago and the finding of the cure by doctors so quickly has been applauded by physicians all over the world. Moreover, the new treatment can be done in just eight weeks, with a single pill a day and mild side effects. When compared to the usual practice of physicians following treatment regimes for as long as 48 weeks through the two drugs, ribavirin and interferon, this is a commendable achievement.
According to Dr Jeffrey Tice, a physician at the University of California, the drugs are “a triumph of modern medical technology.” Furthermore, in their article in The New England Journal of Medicine, liver specialists, Drs. Raymond Chung and Thomas Baumert of the Harvard Medical School stated that “global eradication” of the HCV may now be imaginable. The authors of the article said the newly founded drug can revolutionize the treatment of the HCV just as the antibiotics had done for bacterial infections in the twentieth century. All three specialists were not involved with the clinical trials.
PositiveSingles.com Spokesperson, Jenelle Marie, said they have been also following the news closely. PositiveSingles.com is a website that offers a way for those who have been diagnosed with an STD to get back into the dating world without fear of rejection based on one’s STD status. A significant number of PositiveSingles members are HCV infected, therefore, the website is keenly interested in the progress the clinical trials are making.
Marie said, “While the success of those clinical trials is exciting, what we have found so far in our research about these new developments is that it will still be some time before everyone can be treated. This relates to some of the barriers to health equity that preside across all infections and access to effective treatment or vaccinations for all people.”
She further said, “We want the public to remember that an effective vaccine or medication does not mean everyone has been treated, so a lot of the advice we provide our members about practicing comprehensive safer sex still applies. However, overall, we know this progress helps to illustrate how infectious diseases can and do impact so many people, and while not all infections can be cured, there are talented folks working to reduce some of the impact these infections have on our communities and cultures, and that is definitely something to be excited about.”
Meanwhile, the drugs are expected to be available for patients by the end of 2014 or very early 2015. However, even though the Hepatitis C virus cure has been found by doctors, the medicines are extremely expensive, which may mean that widespread use of the drugs for treatments may be limited. Pills for the cure are expected to cost as much as $1,000 per tablet, which not a lot of people can afford even with insurance.
By Faryal Najeeb