New drug offers high cure rate for hepatitis C

A new drug therapy may offer more effective treatment for hepatitis C patients with genotype 2 and genotype 3, according to a recent study by researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College.

The drug, which is called sofosbuvir, when combined with the antiviral drug ribavirin, elicited a 93 percent response rate in patients with hepatitis C genotype 2 and a 61 percent response rate in patients with genotype 3. The study was published on Tuesday in an online edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"The new sofosbuvir therapy offers a much-needed alternative to standard therapy with interferon, which can cause significant side effects for hepatitis C patients," Ira Jacobson, the study's lead investigator, said. "We have dreamed for years of being able to eliminate interferon from our hepatitis C regimens and this study is one of several that are finally bringing us very close to realizing that goal."

Sofosbuvir works by interfering with the hepatitis C virus' ability to replicate. The drug's developer Gilead Sciences, Inc., provided the results of four sofosbuvir clinical trials in regulatory filings submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in an attempt to get the drug approved.

Jacobson estimates that up to half of patients with hepatitis C infection either can't use interferon or do not want to use it.

"Sofosbuvir is an extremely promising treatment for this population," Jacobson said. "It is widely hoped that combinations of potent antiviral drugs will eventually replace the use of interferon, in general, for most hepatitis C patients."

Approximately 170 million people worldwide are infected with hepatitis C and 350,000 die annually from the disease. If left untreated, hepatitis C can cause liver disease, cancer and failure.

"This new treatment represents a paradigm shift in the way that hepatitis C is going to be treated," Jacobson said. "We are achieving the same or higher cure rates in many patients with sofosbuvir, compared to interferon, and we are doing it in half the time with a drug that has a remarkable safety profile."