HEPATITIS C could be virtually eradicated in people with HIV following a breakthrough in new medications.

Recent clinical trails, some of which were conducted by the Kirby Institute at UNSW, showed a new suite of drugs had effectively treated nine out of 10 people with hepatitis C.

A blood-borne virus that causes inflammation of the liver, symptoms of hepatitis C include the distinctive jaundice, or yellow colouring, of the skin.

Speaking at the 2014 meeting of the Asian Pacific Association for the Study of the Liver in Brisbane last week, Professor Gregory Dore of the Kirby Institute said the findings were of particular importance to people co-infected with both HIV and hepatitis C as they are more at risk of severe liver disease.

“HIV infection increases the risk of developing cirrhosis and liver cancer in people who are also infected with hepatitis C,” he said.

“HIV makes it more difficult for them to tolerate the current interferon based treatments for hepatitis C which are also less effective when there are co-infections.”

The current 48-week course of the drug interferon had a 40% success rate in eradicating the virus. The treatment’s length coupled with its punishing side effects has led some patients to fail to complete their full course.

By adding the new drugs, including sofosbuvir and simeprevir, to current treatments course length could be reduced to just 12 weeks and side effects drastically reduced with the eradication rate rising to 90 per cent or more, the meeting heard.

“Preliminary data with the new direct acting anti-virals is very promising and we are hoping the 90 per cent cure rates will be replicated in people with co-infections,” Dore said.

As many as 3000 people, or up to 12 per cent of Australians living with HIV, are also infected with hepatitis C.

Within the last six months, regulators in America and Europe have approved sofosbuvir and simeprevir for medical use. They are currently under review by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The prevalence of hepatitis C in countries such as China and Vietnam gave Dore some optimism that low-cost generic versions of the new drugs could become available.

 

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