Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

January 24, 2005

A Cure for Hepatitis C?

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:21 pm

Scott Gottlieb reports in Forbes Online on a possible cure for hepatitis C. This would be a major advance in medicine, not just because hepatitis C is a really bad, really contagious (when exposed to infected blood) disease, but because there aren’t very many viral diseases for which there are reliable cures.

When I was a resident in medicine, there was a virus that frightened doctors who had to handle needles and scalpels. Doctors were afraid that in the hurried delivery of emergency care, a hand would slip or a scalpel would fall, and a doctor would accidentally stick herself. If a patient had the virus, chances were good that a doctor could soon have it, too.

There are about 200 million people in the world who are infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV)–almost five million in the U.S. alone. The virus causes your liver to swell and stops it from working. Eventually, the liver can become incapable of functioning because constant inflammation kills the organ. HCV is spread by contact with the blood of an infected person, and it is extremely contagious, even more contagious than AIDS.

Today, the standard treatment for hepatitis C is the combination of an antiviral medicine that targets the virus and an immune system-boosting drug that helps the body fight the infection. This elixir works for about half of all patients, but many patients can’t tolerate the regimen or their bodies don’t respond to it.

But there is new hope in the development of a class of drugs known as protease inhibitors. This isn’t the same kind of protease inhibitor that has been used to successfully treat AIDS. In the case of HCV, the drug is targeted at a unique kind of protease enzyme only used by the hepatitis C virus.

The most advanced and most promising protease inhibitor for hepatitis C belongs to the Cambridge, Mass.-based biotechnology company Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

Scientists at Vertex used structure-based drug design to create the drug, known as VX-950. Structure-based design means that scientists use special equipment to make computer models of a three-dimensional structure of the enzyme they are targeting. This enables more rational attempts to design drugs to stick inside the enzyme’s active site, by building the ideal drug one atom at a time, like a microscopic Lego set.

The small trial is going to compare the safety and effectiveness of VX-950 to a sugar pill in about 60 healthy volunteers and patients with hepatitis C. The study is expected to finish up this year. It should give Vertex a good look at just how potent the new drug is, as well as a peek at whether it is safe.

It will take a long time to test the drug and make sure it works and is safe, and even more time and more testing to convince the FDA it works and is safe. How many people will die while the FDA does that extra testing to make sure it’s “safe”? How much testing is safe for those patients?

4 Responses to “A Cure for Hepatitis C?”





  3. Different River Says:

    I have no information on how to get into a clinical trial. I would suggest contacting your doctor, or the drug manufacturers running the trial. The two mentioned in the article are Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Schering-Plough.

  4. angel miller Says:

    my husband has been living with hepatitus c for almost 22
    years and it is finaly taking a tole on his body i would like
    to know of any medicine that can help him please help me

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