New Drugs Cure Hepatitis C


Kelli Miller, ELS

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White pills spill from medicine bottle

Hepatitis C (also known as hep C) is a viral infection that can cause serious and permanent liver damage. The goal of treatment is to clear the virus from the body and stop, slow and prevent liver problems. Until recently, doing that involved inconvenient and painful injections of interferon and a pill called ribavirin. That therapy is known for its toxic side effects and has been compared to "low-grade chemo." Worse, it doesn't always work that well. These traditional drugs offer a 50% cure rate at best.  

But today, we're witnessing a revolution in hepatitis C treatment, as more and more medications that directly target the virus gain approval. These medications offer a cure, instead of a partial clearing of the virus. And, as a bonus, most come in the form of a pill. They have fewer side effects and work much faster—which means you don't have to stay on treatment as long as compared to interferon and other drugs.

In the last few years, a lot has changed in the way we treat hepatitis C. Do you know all the facts?

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Oct 23, 2015

The rapidly-evolving hep C medication list is giving new hope for the 3.2 million Americans living with the chronic form of the disease. Here's a closer look at some of the interferon-free medicines for hepatitis C approved since 2014.

Harvoni (ledipasvir and sofosbuvir)

This drug—a once-a-day pill—ushered in a new era of hep C medications. The FDA approved Harvoni in October 2014, making it the first interferon-free treatment for people with the most common form of the disease, called genotype 1 (type 1). The pill is also the first to combine two medicines that effectively eliminate the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Such medicines are called direct-acting antivirals. They get in the way of proteins in the body that the virus relies on to grow and multiply.

In studies, the drug cured the infection in 94% of patients in just 12 weeks. Common side effects are fatigue, headache, upset stomach, diarrhea, and sleeping difficulty.

Solvaldi (sofosbuvir)

This medication is effective against any genotype of hepatitis C, but you can’t ever take Solvadi alone. Doctors must prescribe it with another antiviral drug (like ledipasvir or simeprevir). It can also be given with interferon. The FDA approved it as a "breakthrough therapy" in November 2014. According to the FDA, such designation means "preliminary clinical evidence indicates the drug may demonstrate a substantial improvement over available therapies for patients with serious or life-threatening diseases." (Other new hepatitis C drugs have also received this designation.)

Most patients need to take this drug for 12 weeks. The most common side effects are fatigue, headache, sleeping difficulty, and upset stomach.   

Olysio (simeprevir)

This drug fights HCV type 1. It once had to be taken with interferon and ribavirin. (Some patients may still need to do that.) However, the FDA stated in November 2014 that it could be taken with the pill, Solvaldi—doing away with the need for dreaded shots. The drug may cause dry skin, rash, and sun sensitivity.

Viekera Pak(ombitasvir, paritaprevir and ritonavir, with dasabuvir)

This combination treatment is for people with HCV type 1, including those with some forms of liver scarring (cirrhosis). The prescription includes two medicines:

  • A once-a-day pill containing three antiviral meds, which block the virus from growing.

  • Another pill taken twice a day, which helps one of the combination antivirals work better.

Side effects are itching, weakness, fatigue or a lack of energy, nausea, and trouble sleeping.

Daklinza (daclatasvir)

This is the first interferon-free treatment to be approved for HCV type 3. (This type of hepatitis C affects about 1 in 10 people infected with the virus.) The once-a-day pill is taken with sofosbuvir (Solvaldi). The treatment boasts cure rates similar to the other, landmark hepatitis C medicines. In studies, 98% of patients without cirrhosis had no traces of the virus in their blood after 12 weeks. The most common side effects are fatigue and headache. The FDA warns it can sometimes cause a serious slowing of the heart rate, which may require a pacemaker.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Aug 14, 2015

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. A Brief History of Hepatitis C. HCV Advocate.
  2. Effective hepatitis C drugs spur debate on cost, access. University of Washington HS NewsBeat.
  3. Hepatitis B and C Treatments. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  4. FDA approves first combination pill to treat hepatitis C. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  5. FDA approves Viekira Pak to treat hepatitis C. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  6. FDA approves Technivie for treatment of chronic hepatitis C genotype 4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  7. FDA approves new treatment for chronic hepatitis C genotype 3 infections. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  8. Hepatitis C Fact Sheet. Office of Population Affairs.
  9. Field J et al. Treatment of HCV with ABT-450/r–Ombitasvir and Dasabuvir with Ribavirin. N Engl J Med. 2014;370:1594-1603.
  10. Chung RT, Baumert TF. Curing Chroinic Hepatitis C — The Arc of a Medical Triumph. N Engl J Med. 2014;370:1576-8.

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