Faster, Cheaper Hep C Cures on the Horizon?
Nov. 10, 2015 — In an ecstatic post to her Instagram followers yesterday, Pamela Anderson revealed that she’s been cured of hepatitis C.
She’s short on specifics, but tells other people who are infected not to lose hope and promises that the cure she got “will be more available soon.”
Is she right?
To find out, we reached out to Raymond Schinazi, PhD. He’s the director of the Laboratory of Biochemical Pharmacology at Emory University in Atlanta.
Schinazi has had a hand in developing five lifesaving antiviral drugs, including sofosbuvir (Sovaldi), one of several new treatments that can wipe out hepatitis C infections in nearly everybody who takes them. (He reportedly made $440 million when he sold the rights to that drug to the pharmaceutical company Gilead.)
Now Schinazi says he’s figured out a way to shrink the treatment time for some hep C patients from 12 to 3 weeks. Most importantly, the shorter regimen, which relies on a combination of three drugs instead of two, could cut the cost of a cure by 60%.
Right now, the two-drug combo Harvoni — a combination of sofosbuvir and another antiviral drug called ledipasvir, which was approved by the FDA last year — costs $1,125 per pill. People take it for about 12 weeks, bringing the total tab for treatment to $94,500. That puts hope of a cure out of reach for many.
Schinazi didn’t say which drugs were in the experimental treatment, but he says they each work in a slightly different way to keep the virus from being able to copy itself.
“These are three of the most potent drugs available. You put them all together and you blow the virus away, basically. It has no way to escape,” he says.
Schinazi and his collaborators gave slightly different versions of this three-drug cocktail to 26 people who were infected with the 1b strain of the hepatitis C virus, which accounts for about 46% of infections worldwide and about 25% of infections in the U.S.
After 2 days, people in the study were given a blood test to see how they were responding to the meds. About 18 had huge drops in their levels of the virus, and they were told to stop taking their medications after 3 weeks. The other eight continued to take the medication for a full 12 weeks.