AbbVie's Experimental Hep C Drug Cured 95% Of Sufferers In Early Trials, Which Would Be Incredible

An experimental new drug has the potential to improve the outlook for millions of patients infected with hepatitis C. Researchers have reported that in a trial of the drug, called ABT-450, it cured more than 95 percent of Hep C sufferers. The report of the trial, which was funded by pharma company AbbVie and carried out by researchers from the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and the Texas Liver Institute, was published last Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

According to the World Health Organization, around 130 to 150 million people worldwide have chronic hepatitis C, an infectious disease that can cause liver cancer and cirrhosis. Around three million people in America are affected.

The traditional standard treatment for hepatitis C is interferon, a drug that is administered through weekly injections. The therapy is associated with several severe side effects and has a high rate of relapse, and the course of treatment runs for a year. This new drug, however, comes in pill form and the therapy takes only three months to work.

ABT-450 was tested in 2013 on 380 patients at 78 locations across the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain. The patients had liver cirrhosis, which indicates an advanced form of the disease. They were divided into two groups, and two studies were run simultaneously — one group used the drug for 12 weeks and the other for 24 weeks. After 12 weeks, 191 out of 208 patients no longer had hepatitis C. In the second group, 165 out of 172 patients showed no traces of infection at the end of the study period.

One drawback of the three-month ABT-450 regimen is that it could be considered tricky to follow — some of the pills involved need to be taken twice a day, and some once per day. However, further research could well lead to simplification of the treatment program.

The drug has not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but there's hope the drug will hit the market in late 2014 or early 2015. If it is approved then it will be strong competition for Solvadi, another oral hepatitis C treatment that costs $90,000 for the three-month treatment plan. There's no word yet on how much ABT-450 is likely to cost.