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A good combination: Dual-drug combo can cure hepatitis C

More than 90 percent of hepatitis C patients were cured in three months using a combination of pills already approved by the FDA.

When taken together, the drugs sofosbuvir and simeprevir resulted in nine out of 10 patients being cured. They were also well tolerated by patients, according to a study published in The Lancet.

Eric Lawitz, M.D., clinical professor in the Long School of Medicine and vice president of research and scientific development at the Texas Liver Institute, led the clinical trial conducted in the United States and funded by Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies.

Encouraging people to take a blood test to diagnose hepatitis C could result in their being treated with an oral regimen that could prevent serious liver diseases such as cancer, cirrhosis or liver failure. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants in the U.S.

An estimated 3.2 million people nationwide have hepatitis C, and most do not know they are infected. Cure rates for hepatitis C patients with cirrhosis are historically lower than 50 percent, and the treatment has had numerous adverse effects. The previous standard of care with the drug interferon involved a complicated regimen of shots and up to 18 tablets a day for up to 48 weeks, and six months of follow-up care to determine if the therapy was successful. Side effects included rash, anemia and depression.

“We are now in the midst of a paradigm shift of moving away from complicated injection regimens,” Dr. Lawitz said. “This trial provides a glimpse into the outcomes of sofosbuvir and simeprevir for treatment of hepatitis C. Both drugs are approved by the FDA but are not yet approved together for this treatment.”

All-oral regimens hold promise for a hepatitis C cure rate of more than 90 percent of patients, including those with liver scarring, or cirrhosis. Study participants had the most common form of hepatitis C, called genotype 1, and were difficult to treat due to either failing a previous course of interferon and ribavirin, or having cirrhosis.

More than 150 million people worldwide have chronic hepatitis C, a major cause of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. Annually 350,000 to 500,000 deaths are reported.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75 percent of U.S. residents with chronic hepatitis C were born from 1945 through 1965. For this reason, the CDC recommends that people born during these years have a one-time test for hepatitis C to prevent the risk of more serious health problems.

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