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Cure Rate for Experimental Hepatitis C Drug Tops 95%

But high costs of newer medications is a concern, experts say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, April 10, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers report that an experimental drug has cured more than 95 percent of patients infected with hepatitis C, including some who failed other treatments.

If it wins approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, this new drug, called ABT-450, could potentially compete with another innovative hepatitis C medication that costs $1,000 a day.

Nearly 3 million Americans have hepatitis C, a disease that can cause liver cirrhosis and cancer.

These newer, advanced treatments are better-tolerated and easier to take than interferon, the traditional standard treatment for hepatitis C, researchers say.

"Interferon is no longer required to cure hepatitis C," said Dr. Stefan Zeuzem, a professor of medicine at the J.W. Goethe University Hospital in Frankfurt, Germany, and lead researcher on the ABT-450 study.

His research pairing ABT-450 with other interferon-free medications showed "almost all patients with chronic hepatitis C can be cured even if previous treatments were unsuccessful," Zeuzem said.

The report was published online April 10 in the New England Journal of Medicine, to coincide with presentation of the findings at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of the Liver in London. The drug trial was funded by the drug's maker, AbbVie.

"Hepatitis C is a big, bad problem," said Dr. William Carey, a liver specialist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

This new drug represents "one among many breakthroughs in our ability to deal with hepatitis C," Carey said.

An advantage to this treatment is that it is a pill, while interferon is given in weekly injections. Also, older treatments went on for a year, while this new therapy takes only three months to work, Carey said.

Interferon treatment also has severe side effects, including fatigue and flu-like symptoms.

"This is not the only drug combination that is interferon-free, but it's a very promising one," he said.

One drawback to the therapy is that some pills are taken once a day and some twice, which might make following the treatment tricky. Carey hopes that treatment eventually is simplified. "Wouldn't it be great if we could take one or two pills once a day and be done with it?" he said.

Since many people with hepatitis C remain symptom-free, the medical community has not agreed on whom to treat.

With these new cures, that question becomes easier to answer, Carey said. "When you have a treatment that is this simple, effective and free of side effects, there are fewer and fewer reasons to think about withholding treatment," he noted.

"The major barrier is cost," he added.

Whether the new drug will be priced like Sovaldi, the $1,000-a-day medication, is still unknown.

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