Credit: Knol

According to new study led by a team of North American and European scientists, a new class of drugs called telaprevir which are protease inhibitors significantly improved cure rates and cut down treatment times in people suffering from hepatitis C.

More than 200,000 people in Australia are affected with hepatitis C. Current treatment involves dual therapy with interferon to stimulate the immune system - through weekly injection -, and ribavirin - an antiviral agent to be taken twice daily.

The dual therapy mix cures between 40 per cent and 80 per cent of people with the virus. For many, the virus is hard to eliminate.

As in the case of genotype 1 hepatitis C -commonly diagnosed in Australia - the standard dual therapy treatment yields a cure rate of between 40 per cent and 50 per cent, and requires as long as 48-week treatment duration.

In people suffering with liver disease who cannot eradicate the virus, they face a high risk of subsequent liver cancer, need a liver transplant or both. Unpleasant side effects of the dual therapy mix are also experienced by many people.

The new class of drugs, based on the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine is presenting exciting results, said Professor Geoff McCaughan, head of the AW Morrow Gastroenterology and Liver Centre at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney.

The study involved 453 people with hepatitis C genotype 1 who had previously failed on conventional combination of interferon and ribavirin therapy.

They were randomly divided into 4 groups; group 1 received telaprevir for 12 weeks plus interferon and ribavirin for 24 weeks, group 2 received telaprevir for 24 weeks with interferon and ribavirin for 48 weeks, group 3 received telaprevir and interferon for only 24 weeks, and the control group received standard therapy for 48 weeks.

The result showed 51 per cent in Group 1 cured of the disease, 53 per cent in Group 2 and 24 per cent in Group 3 - significantly higher than 14 per cent cure rate in the control group.

The protease inhibitors offer new hope to people who've failed on current treatments and who up until now have had few options if they want to clear the virus, said Prof McCaughan.