An experimental antiviral drug that works by a different mechanism than existing drugs has been shown to suppress hepatitis C in chimpanzees and is beginning clinical trials in humans, researchers reported Thursday.
The new drug binds to RNA required by the virus for replication, preventing it from proliferating in the liver.
Preliminary tests suggest that the drug, called SPC3649, has no toxic side effects, does not allow development of resistance – which plagues other hepatitis drugs – and has lasting effects after treatment ends.
An estimated 170 million people worldwide, and 3 million to 4 million Americans, have chronic hepatitis C infections. The persistent infections produce liver scarring, or cirrhosis, and often lead to liver cancer.
Current treatment combines the antiviral agent ribavirin with a long-lasting form of interferon.
But the treatment has harsh side effects that cause many patients to stop using it. Treatment is effective in about half of those who can finish the 48-week regimen.
The results, reported in the online version of the journal Science, “are very exciting,” said Stanford University microbiologist Peter Sarnow, who was not involved in the research.