Medications and Other New Treatments for Hepatitis C

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  • What Is Hepatitis C?

    What Is Hepatitis C?

    Hepatitis C is a viral infection that affects the liver. According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the virus affects around 3.2 million Americans. The most common way to become infected is through sharing needles from drug use.

    The virus poses a risk for liver damage, which can include scarring, cirrhosis, and cancer. To clear the virus, doctors prescribe drugs matched to your type of hepatitis C. Fast-moving research is giving physicians more choices than ever.

    Click through the slideshow to learn more about treatments for hepatitis C.

  • Drug Choices

    Drug Choices

    The simplest way to look at the medications for hepatitis C is to group them into three broad categories.

    • Traditional drugs: Interferon and ribavirin have been used the longest for treating patients with hepatitis C.
    • Protease inhibitors: These drugs, including boceprevir, telaprevir and simeprevir became available in 2011.
    • Direct-acting antivirals: Clinical trials are currently being preformed to evaluate these drugs.  
  • The Standard of Care

    The Standard of Care

    Your doctor will tailor your medications based on your type of hepatitis C, which varies by genotype. The genotype refers to a viral code or blueprint.

    Traditionally, if you had genotype 1, the most common in the U.S., you will receive three drugs: interferon, ribavirin, and a protease inhibitor. If you had genotype 2 or 3, your doctor will likely instruct that you stick to just interferon and ribavirin.

    Fast-moving research developments may lead to changes in these regimens.

  • Interferon

    Interferon

    Your body makes interferon naturally. The protein helps stimulate the immune system to fight viruses.

    Scientists found a way to produce interferon outside the body. And by attaching a molecule to synthetic interferon, this drug lasts longer. Thus, you only have to inject it weekly, for around six to 11 months. This form is called pegylated interferon, or peginterferon.

  • Ribavirin

    Ribavirin

    The other mainstay of traditional hepatitis C treatment is ribavirin. You take this antiviral medication twice daily for up to 11 months in the form of a liquid, capsule, or pill.

    Scientists are not exactly sure of ribavirin’s mechanism. It appears to interfere with the hepatitis virus’s ability to replicate its RNA. Ribavarin is part of a family of drugs called nucleoside analogues.

  • The Protease Inhibitors

    The Protease Inhibitors

    Protease inhibitors help you fight the genotype 1 type of hepatitis C. Your doctor will prescribe you boceprevir, telaprevir, or simeprevir, along with interferon and ribavirin. Protease inhibitors curb the activity of the protease enzyme in the hepatitis virus. This makes it difficult for the virus to replicate.

    Simeprevir, the most recently approved drug, provided encouraging results in five clinical studies. The patients received simeprevir with interferon and ribavirin. On average, four out of five patients -- first timers and relapsed alike -- cleared the virus from their bodies.

  • The Buzz Over Sofosbuvir

    The Buzz Over Sofosbuvir

    Another newly approved drug, sofosbuvir, inhibits a protein called NS5A, which is critical to hepatitis virus replication.

    Sofosbuvir especially benefits patients with genotypes 2 and 3. These patients only need to take ribavirin to clear the hepatitis C virus, thus eliminating the need for injections as part of their treatment. And patients don’t have to take their drugs for as long as the other drugs, just three to six months.

    If you have genotype 1, the FDA prescribes sofosbuvir with interferon and ribavirin both.

  • Steady Progress Towards a ‘Cure’

    Steady Progress Towards a ‘Cure’

    With recent medical breakthroughs, treatment choices for patients infected with hepatitis C prove more and more promising.

    It’s important that you maintain an open dialogue with you doctor if you suspect you have been infected with the hepatitis C virus. While there is no vaccine for the virus, treatments can help keep the virus from posing long-term health problems. The best way to avoid hepatitis C infection is through avoiding risky behaviors, particularly intravenous drug use.

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