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New Oral Hepatitis C Drugs: FAQ

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The older regimen -- interferon, ribavirin, and either Incivek or Victrelis – cures hepatitis C about 50% to 70% of the time, Masur says. Adding either of the two newest drugs to ribavirin and interferon instead produces a cure rate of about 80% to 95% or higher, he says.

"They will shorten the treatment time and increase the sustained response rate," Maliakkal says. That means you may not have to take medicine as long, and your chance of curing hepatitis C is greater.

Treatment time may decline from up to 48 weeks to 12 or even less, at least in some patients.

What about side effects?

The two new drugs do not seem to have the same troubling side effects as interferon and ribavirin, which include insomnia, flu-like symptoms, and depression. For the two new drugs, fatigue, headache, and a mild skin rash are among the side effects reported, Maliakkal says.

Even though the new drugs, by themselves, have fewer troubling side effects, the side effects due to the interferon and ribavirin will still be an issue for many, doctors say.

What will they cost?

The drugs are expensive, with experts predicting costs of $60,000 or more for the 12-week course.

The wholesale cost of a 12-week course of Olysio, for instance, will be about $66,000, according to Craig Stoltz of Janssen.

Janssen will offer programs for patients in need of financial help, Stoltz says.

The wholesale cost of a 12-week course of Sovaldi will be about $84,000, according to Cara Miller of Gilead Sciences. Gilead is launching a patient-assistance program to help those in need pay for the drug, she says.

Costs to patients for both drugs will depend on their insurance plan.

What's on the horizon for hepatitis C treatment?

Even better treatment options are coming soon, experts say.

"This is a minor revolution," Maliakkal says of the two new oral drugs. "What is coming is truly revolutionary."

Within a year, he predicts, the FDA will approve other drugs for hepatitis C. These will be combined with the two newly approved drugs, or each other, and make interferon and ribavirin unnecessary, he says.

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