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New drugs encouraging for African Americans with hepatitis C

Houston, TX - 5/25/2011

Two new drugs approved recently by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat hepatitis C genotype 1 significantly improved the cure rates of patients. One of the drugs was especially effective in treating African Americans.

The current standard of treatment of interferon and ribavirun has only been effective in curing 38 to 40 percent of patients with chronic hepatitis C genotype 1.

In clinical trials, Victrelis and Incivek, when working in concert with interferon and ribavirun, cured 65 to 75 percent of people with chronic disease and Victrelis-alone doubled the previous cure rate among African Americans.

"African Americans represent a patient population that typically does not respond well to standard therapy," said Dr. Howard Monsour, chief of Hepatology at The Methodist Hospital in Houston and one of the physicians involved in the clinical trials. "Victrelis has helped boost the cure rate from 23 percent to 53 percent, which is extremely encouraging."

Monsour believes the recent approval of both drugs represents the most significant news in the fight against hepatitis C in a decade.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that leads to inflammation of the liver. Intravenous drug use is the most common cause and it affects nearly two percent of the U.S. population. Some 80 percent of people with hepatitis C develop chronic disease and between 20 and 50 percent will develop cirrhosis of the liver.

Victrelis and Incivek work effectively by attacking the virus directly and interfering with the virus' ability to replicate. They are only effective against a genotype 1 infection, which is most common form of hepatitis C in the United States.

The clinical trials studied three classes of patients: 1) Patients who had never been treated. 2) Patients who had been treated, lost the virus, but had a relapse once the medication stopped. 3) Patients who responded poorly to treatment without the loss of the virus.

"We found a 65 to 75 percent cure rate in both the people who had never been treated and in those who had a relapse and in the third group we found up to a 55 percent cure rate," Monsour said. "The drugs have also shortened the treatment time from a year to, in most cases, six to eight months, and with many other drugs in development, the future looks very bright."

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