New Hepatitis Drugs

Written by Will Blesch

About a month ago, on April 28th the FDA approved two new antiviral drugs in the war against Hepatitis C, a disease that the World Health Organization estimates has infected up to 170 million people world wide.

Hepatitis is simply inflammation of the liver. It’s also the name of a group of viruses that infect the liver, with three main types…”A,” “B,” and “C.”

Hepatits B and C can become chronic infections that result in long-term liver damage and the problems that come from that damage. HCV, or Hepatitis C can be acute or chronic, and is usually transmitted through contact with an infected person’s blood.

Now, the names of the recent FDA approvals are the drugs Telaprevir and Boceprevir. Both are promising a lot. Initial studies show that when used together with Interferon, Telaprevir “was more likely to have a sustained response than repeat treatment with peginterferon alfa-2a and ribavirin alone.” (New England Journal of Medicine)

That’s good news for those who have Hepatitis C and the liver damage that results.

However, as is not surprising with so many of the drugs produced by the major Pharmaceutical companies (Telaprevir is produced by Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated ), Telaprevir has the following side effects as noted in Vertex’s own press release upon the FDA’s approval of their drug:

“The most common side effects, regardless of treatment arm, were fatigue, pruritus (itchiness), nausea, headache, rash, anemia, flu-like symptoms, insomnia and diarrhea with the majority being mild to moderate.

Rash and anemia occurred more frequently among those treated with telaprevir-based combination therapy. In Phase 3 studies, discontinuation of all medicines due to either rash or anemia during the telaprevir/placebo treatment phase was approximately 1 percent for rash and 1 percent for anemia. Rash was primarily characterized as eczema-like, manageable and resolved following discontinuation of telaprevir. More than 90 percent of rash was mild to moderate and investigators in the studies primarily used topical corticosteroids and/or antihistamines to treat rash. Anemia was primarily managed by reducing the dose of ribavirin.”

Although Boceprevir may potentially be easier to tolerate, according to WebMD, “Neither boceprevir nor telaprevir can be given alone — each must be added to standard combination treatment with alpha interferon and ribavirin.

That standard combination causes a lot of hard-to-tolerate side effects. Both boceprevir and telaprevir add to the side effect burden.” Moreover, “Like the AIDS virus, the hepatitis virus quickly develops resistance to protease inhibitors.”

Thus, these drugs may be good for the moment, but who knows for how long?

It’s my personal belief that more natural means of fighting these viruses…whether through direct means such as attacking the virus itself (which is what these two drugs approved by the FDA do), or by improving or helping the immune system (which is what interferon does)…must be found.

More research into natural elements such as quercetin, which is a plant-derived flavonoid found in fruits, vegetables, leaves and grains, and that has been found in some studies published in such journals as the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin to be an active agent against Hepatitis B should absolutely be conducted.

It’s amazing to me that the National Institute of Health’s annual budget is only 29.5 billion dollars…an organization that helps fund major medical research…only has 29.5 billion dollars per year…PER YEAR!…when the war in Iraq (just ONE war)…costs the American tax payer 1 billion dollars per DAY.

That means that if we were spending the amounts of money we spend on the war in Iraq on medical research, the NIH would have 12 times the funding it currently has. Imagine the breakthroughs that could come if that were the case!

So…two new drugs on the market with nasty side effects but with little alternative…just one war that is costing us more than 12 times what we’re spending on medical research…and promising natural means of fighting viruses that no one is really looking into.

Good going USA.

References:

^ McHutchison JG, Manns MP, Muir AJ, et al. (April 2010). “Telaprevir for previously treated chronic HCV infection”. N. Engl. J. Med. 362 (14): 1292–303. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa0908014. PMID 20375406.
Press Release: FDA Advisory Committee Unanimously Recommends Approval of Telaprevir for People with Hepatitis C, Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated, 28 April, 2011

Hapatitis Health Center, “Boceprevir Boosts Hepatitis C Treatment Success”, WebMD WEB

Li J, Huang H, Zhou W, Feng M, Zhou P. “Anti-hepatitis B virus activities of Geranium carolinianum L. extracts and identification of the active components.” Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin,

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