Study suggests unprecedented 3-week hepatitis C cure

Yet another stunning victory in the drug battle against the liver-damaging hepatitis C virus (HCV) may be in the offing: A small study suggests it may be possible to cure some people of their infections in as few as 3 weeks.

Fresh on the heels of recent approvals of four new combinations of HCV drugs that clear infections of many different types of the virus in about 3 months, a team led by hepatologist George Lau of the Humanity & Healthy GI and Liver Centre in Hong Kong, China, has mixed and matched various compounds to see whether they could further shorten the route to a cure. Following 3 weeks of treatment, 18 HCV infected people given three different combinations of drugs met the standard definition of being cured—at 12 weeks after treatment began, they had no signs of HCV’s genetic material, RNA, in their blood on standard tests. The researchers plan to present this data publicly for the first time at a scientific conference known as The Liver Meeting in 2 weeks.

Until the new HCV drugs emerged, infected people required treatment for 8 months, and the therapies often failed and had severe side effects. Now, standard treatment protocol calls for taking HCV drugs for just 12 weeks. Cutting that treatment time even more dramatically is “really, really intriguing” says Shyam Kottilil, an HCV researcher at the Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore, Maryland. And if the results hold, it could slash the overall treatment cost of $100,000 required by the most popular drugs used for the 12-week treatment. Kottilil’s own study of a 4-week treatment—which tested different drug combinations on a different patient population—had only a 40% cure rate in the 50 participants. (That study is in press at Annals of Internal Medicine.)

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