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June 2007 Issue

Kenneth Sherman, MD, PhD, director of the division of digestive diseases
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New Hepatitis C DrugsMay Improve Patient Outcomes

By Katie Pence
Published June 2007

The number of hepatitis C cases in the United States is rising, but existing drugs are leaving those who suffer from the illness with debilitating side effects.


“About 180 million people worldwide suffer from hepatitis C,” said Kenneth Sherman, MD, from UC’s division of digestive diseases. “About 20,000 to 25,000 of those are chronic cases in the Cincinnati metropolitan area.”


But Sherman said new clinical trials at UC may lead to drug discoveries that could provide better treatment with fewer side effects.


“There’s a great need for new drugs,” he said. “We know the genetic structure of hepatitis C, and many pharmaceutical companies are working to target different functions of the virus to enhance viral elimination.”


Sherman said the agents currently approved for hepatitis C treatment cause a variety of side effects, including fever and muscle aches as well as anemia, rashes and nausea.


“Response rates for the typical hepatitis C patient are under 50 percent with the use of these drugs, which isn’t very high,” he added.


Sherman said it’s hoped that a new generation of drugs will be more effective with fewer side effects.


Six clinical trials of hepatitis C medications are under way at UC, including drugs that inhibit the virus’s replicating capabilities, preventing it from invading a healthy liver.


“Developers are seeking ways to affect the virus’s life cycle,” Sherman said, adding that although most drugs being studied are oral, there’s also a therapeutic vaccine in the works.


“These new drugs will hopefully be better tolerated and more effective,” he said. “In the early 1990s, we were able to kill the virus 5 to 6 percent of the time. Improved drug formulations have increased cure rates to approximately 50 percent in the United States.


“We’ve made huge advances in a relatively short time, but there’s still room for improvement.”

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