Studies Investigate New, Less Toxic Treatments For Hepatitis C
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
A new orally-administered antiviral therapy has reportedly cured hepatitis C infection in over 90 percent of patients with liver cirrhosis, according to research published Saturday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Previously, the only treatment method that showed effectiveness against hepatitis C was interferon. However, patients treated with this agent often suffered relapses and experienced multiple adverse side effects. In an attempt to discover an alternative form of therapy, lead author Dr. Fred Poordad of the Texas Liver Institute and his colleagues tested an interferon-free medication.
They administered a combination of ABT-450/ritonavir, ombitasvir, dasabuvir and ribavirin for a period of either 12 or 24 weeks, and then tested their subjects 12 weeks following the administration of the last dose. They found no trace of hepatitis C virus in the bloodstream of 91.8 percent of the patients who took the pills for 12 weeks, and 95.9 percent of the patients who received the medication for 24 weeks were virus-free following treatment.
“It is fantastic. I am so excited for the patients. There is finally hope for their future,” Dr. Poordad told BBC News on Saturday. He also explained that the treatment worked by targeting the protein responsible for producing hepatitis C and then preventing it from reproducing and ultimately eradicating it.
The study involved a total of 380 patients at 78 different sites, including hospitals and treatment facilities in Spain, Germany, Canada, the US and the UK. Dr. Poordad’s team has been collecting blood samples from participants for a total of three years, and to this point they have discovered no long-term relapses. The combination medication could be released sometime in late 2014 or in early 2015, the researchers noted.
In related research, a pair of studies – also appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine – looked at the impact of a single-tablet ledipasvir and sofosbuvir treatment regimen on patients suffering from both previously treated and untreated hepatitis C genotype 1 infection.
Two multi-center clinical trials led by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston showed that this oral therapy was able to cure between 94 and 99 of hepatitis C patients, and that the results were similar in patients who had been treated with a combination of peginterferon and ribavirin and those who had not.
“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,” explained senior author Dr. Nezam Afdhal, director of hepatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a Harvard Medical School professor.
Also, research presented at the International Liver Congress 2014 revealed that a compound isolated from Chinese herbal medicines was able to inhibit the activity of the hepatitis C virus by as much as 90 percent. The compound, SBEL1, originates in an herb located in parts of Taiwan and Southern China and is typically used to treat sore throats and inflammation, the study authors said in a statement.
Researchers using human liver cells that were treated with SBEL1 in vitro before infection with the virus discovered that cells pre-treated with the compound contained 23 percent less hepatitis C protein than control cells, suggesting that SBEL1 is capable of prohibiting the virus from entering the cells. Furthermore, hepatitis C virus RNA levels were reduced by 78 percent in infected cells that had been treated in SBEL1 in comparison to a control group, suggesting that the compound could also have an impact on the viral RNA replication process.
“People infected with hepatitis C are at risk of developing severe liver damage including liver cancer and cirrhosis,” said Professor Markus Peck-Radosavljevic, Secretary-General of the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Vienna.
“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,” he added. “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.”