A new approach to treating hepatitis C shows real promise in a late-stage clinical study.
Treatment including an experimental drug called telaprevir, which curbs reproduction of the hepatitis C virus, effectively cured three-quarters of patients who hadn't been treated previously for the disease. The patients also received the standard drug regimen, a combination of interferon and ribavirin.
By comparison, 44 percent of patients treated only with the usual drugs were deemed cured.
Chronic infection with the hepatitis C virus can damage the liver, leading to cirrhosis, liver failure and cancer. About 4 million Americans have been infected by the virus, often from intravenous drug use.
Doctors consider patients cured if the hepatitis C virus becomes undetectable in their blood. But relapses remain possible.
The new drug, from Vertex Pharmaceuticals, is a protease inhibitor, which blocks the reproduction of the hepatitis C virus inside human cells. The same sorts of drugs are a mainstay of HIV treatment.
Common side effects from telaprevir included fatigue, rash and itching.
Two other large clinical tests of the drug are still being conducted, with results expected later this year. If those pan out, the company will apply to the Food and Drug Administration for approval to sell the drug.