Combo drug therapy for hepatitis C paves way for 'unprecedented advances'

Research points to future of injection-free treatment, Hopkins doctor says

Efforts to cure hepatitis C, the liver-damaging infectious disease, are about to get simpler and more effective, thanks to new research done at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere.

In a study published in the Jan. 16 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers say combination treatments involving a pair of experimental oral antiviral drugs were safe and highly effective in the treatment of hepatitis C. The therapy, which combined the drugs daclatasvir and sofosbuvir, worked well even in the patients who are often hardest to treat. The new study is one of the first to show that hepatitis C can be cured without the use of ribavirin, which is known to cause anemia.

As a result of this research, "standard treatments for the disease are going to improve dramatically within the next year," said study leader Mark Sulkowski, medical director of the Johns Hopkins Infectious Disease Center for Viral Hepatitis. This will lead to "unprecedented advances" for hepatitis C patients, he said.

According to Sulkowski, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that fewer than 5 percent of the estimated 3.2 million Americans with hepatitis C have been cured. The CDC also claims that between 50 and 75 percent of people who live with chronic hepatitis C are unaware that they are even infected.

In recent years, hepatitis C has killed more Americans than HIV/AIDS. According to WHO, about 150 million people worldwide are chronically infected with the disease—of that number, 350,000 die annually. The most common mode of transmission is through infected blood (transfusions, organ transplants, needle-sharing, etc.). Sexual intercourse can also transmit the disease, but WHO says that mode of transmission is "less common."

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