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    Experimental Hepatitis C Drug Offers New Hope

    Combination medication cured nearly all study participants, without serious side effects


    Just over half of the previously treated patients had cirrhosis.

    By 12 weeks, nearly all of the patients had achieved what doctors call a sustained virological response, in which the virus is eliminated and prevented from replicating -- in essence, a functional cure.

    "These types of advances are game-changers," Bernstein said. "We're going to be curing [very high percentages of people] with simple oral agents, one pill once a day with mild to no side effects."

    About half of the patients had at least one health problem during the study, with the highest rates seen among patients who took ribavirin. The most common side effects were nausea, anemia, upper respiratory tract infection and headache. The treating physician rated most of them as mild, and no one had to discontinue treatment because of side effects.

    The treatment of hepatitis C is rapidly changing, Lawitz said. "We are moving from an era of injectable medications with significant toxicity to an era of all-oral combination pill therapy that provides the promise of being well-tolerated with very high rates of cure," he said.

    The combination drug is still being evaluated in phase 3 clinical studies, so it is too soon to tell if it will receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval or how it would be priced, Lawitz said.

    Because hepatitis C progresses without symptoms, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults born from 1945 through 1965 get tested for the virus.

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