Hepatitis C virus (HCV), a liver infection which has been linked to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma, is a potentially chronic condition if left untreated. Because of its extremely long latency period, patients who have recently contracted the virus can go decades without becoming symptomatic.
HCV’s major mode of transmission is blood-to-blood contact: tainted blood transfusions, IV drug usage with contaminated needles, and even tattoos/piercings can significantly increase the risk of contracting the virus. Current treatment for symptomatic patients is a combination of ribavirin and pegylated (increases the half-life) interferon; unfortunately, this cures HCV in less than 20% of affected patients.
Late stage clinical trials conducted by Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. have recently provided data showing a combination regimen with telaprevir increases the cure rate to ~65% (tripling the previous statistic!) As part of the trial’s parameters, the drug’s efficacy was assessed in HCV groups who:
- Had been successfully treated in the past but relapsed
- Had a partial response to some therapies
- Had virtually no response to therapies
The telaprevir combo regimen showed promise in all three study groups to varying degrees (patients who relapsed had the greatest improvement). With Merck also working on a new HCV treatment, the future looks bright for the 300,000 Americans (not to mention the countless others worldwide) who have the virus. The advances we continue to make in pharmacotherapy are just amazing. 🙂