New Cures for Hepatitis C

“We’re very excited that we can offer these medications to patients,” says Dr. Peter Varunok, “and improve their lives and give them the chance to make hepatitis C a thing of the past.” 

There are four things that people with hepatitis C, and those at risk of having the disease, need to know about teleprevir and boceprevir, the two drugs recently approved by the FDA.

1. Nearly 80 percent of previously untreated patients who add one of these medications to their drug regimen will be cured of hepatitis C. That makes the medications twice as effective as those previously available.

2. African-Americans—who did not respond well to the standard therapy—now have a better than 60 percent chance of a viral cure.

3. In many patients, the length of treatment will be half as long as previously (24 rather than 48 weeks).

4. After only four weeks, testing can reveal whether the treatment will be successful and merits completion.

These drugs, telaprevir (Incivek) and boceprevir (Victrelis), are of a type called protease inhibitors. They work directly on the hepatitis C virus, interfering with its reproduction. In the new drug regimen, one of these drugs will be added to the standard treatment of PEG interferon and ribavirin, anti-viral drugs that ramp up the immune system and immune response.

“Studies show an eradication rate of approximately 80 percent in people who have never been treated for hepatitis C,” says Dr. Varunok, “and people whose previous treatments have been unsuccessful can approach this same rate. It’s important to note that the responses in African-American is vastly improved over prior drug regimens.”

In Dr. Varunok’s view, one of the significant benefits of the new drug regimen is that after four weeks of treatment, it becomes clear whether or not the medication is going to work. “We base the course of therapy on how the patient responds early on,” he says. “If they respond very quickly, the course of therapy can be as little as 24 weeks.” The therapy typically requires intensive monitoring and multiple laboratory visits, so a shorter treatment schedule results in less disruption of the patients’ daily life and fewer side effects.

With improved hepatitis C treatment now available, it makes more sense than ever for people at risk of infection to be tested. It’s estimated that 70 percent of the 3.2 million Americans with hepatitis C don’t know that they have it.