Some people with hepatitis C experience serious side effects from or do not respond to interferons, the typical treatment for the disease. Fortunately, new research has shown promising results for a different type of treatment.
Video Overview: New Treatment for Hepatitis C Patients
Researchers recently looked at a combination pill to see how well it fights hepatitis C genotype 1 in adults. They tested the medication on people who had and had not previously received hepatitis C treatments.
They found that the vast majority of patients saw significant improvements in their virus levels after the treatment. Additionally, the side effects were tolerable.
Eric Lawitz, MD, of the Texas Liver Institute and the University of Texas Health Science Center, led this study to see if a new type of hepatitis C treatment was effective.
Hepatitis C is a virus that can cause liver damage and scarring. Some people with hepatitis C can experience mild symptoms like fatigue, nausea and weight loss, after which the virus goes away on its own.
However, most people with hepatitis C develop a chronic infection that does not go away. Hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis — liver scarring that prevents the organ from filtering properly.
Treatment for hepatitis C can reduce symptoms and even cure patients. One of the most common treatments, interferon, helps protect healthy liver cells and helps to destroy infected liver cells.
However, interferon treatment comes with many side effects and risks, including flu-like symptoms and depression, according to the authors of the study.
This study tested a new treatment without interferon injections.
One hundred adult patients with hepatitis C infections were recruited and separated into two groups. The first group, with 60 participants, had not received any treatment for hepatitis C beforehand. The second group, with 40 participants, had been treated unsuccessfully with interferon before.
Patients received a medication that contained 400 milligrams of sofosbuvir and 90 milligrams of ledipasvir, which inhibit the hepatitis C virus.
In the first group, 20 patients received the combination pill daily for eight weeks; 19 received the pill for 12 weeks; and 21 received the combination pill plus ribavirin, a medication commonly used in hepatitis C treatment, for eight weeks.
In the second group, 19 patients received the combination pill for eight weeks and 21 received the combination pill plus ribavirin for 12 weeks.
The researchers examined how the drug affected the patients' viral levels.
In the first group of patients who had not received treatment, almost everyone had significantly lowered viral levels 12 weeks after treatment. Treatment was effective for 95 percent of the patients receiving the combination pill for eight weeks and 12 weeks and for 100 percent of the patients receiving the combination pill plus ribavirin.
In the second group who had unsuccessfully received interferon treatment, 95 percent of patients taking the combination pill experienced significantly lower viral levels. Treatment was effective for 100 percent of the participants taking the pill plus ribavirin.
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After 24 weeks of treatment, 97 percent of the patients had a sustained viral response to the medicine.
A total of 48 percent of the patients experienced an adverse response, most commonly nausea, anemia and an upper respiratory tract infection like a cold or sinus inflammation. Anemia, or a decrease in red blood cells, only occurred in patients taking ribavirin.
The researchers concluded that the combination pill of sofosbuvir and ledipasvir was effective in treating hepatitis C patients and was well tolerated by participants. They noted that the effectiveness was similar for those who had and had not been previously treated.
The researchers noted that the study was small and called for larger trials of the medication. Additionally, they wrote that the treatment duration and use of ribavirin need further evaluation.
This study was published in The Lancet on November 5.
The research was funded by Gilead Sciences. The authors are all employees and stockholders of Gilead Sciences and received financial support from various other pharmaceutical companies and organizations.