An expert panel on Thursday unanimously voted in support of a second new hepatitis C drug, Vertex Pharmaceuticals' telaprevir, which studies suggest can boost cure rates of the liver disease.
The advisory panel, which makes recommendations to the Food and Drug Administration, on Wednesday lent its support to a similar drug, boceprevir, made by pharmaceutical giant Merck.
Both drugs are protease inhibitors and are to be added to the current two-drug treatment of pegylated interferon and ribavirin.
Improve cure rate
Doctors said the new class of drugs will greatly improve the cure rate for hepatitis C, a liver disease which affects about 180 million people worldwide. Currently only about half of patients are helped by drug therapy.
A clinical trial last year showed that the addition of telaprevir lifted the cure rate to up to 53%, compared to a control group taking the two drugs only, that had a cure rate of 14%.
The FDA does not have to follow the recommendations of its advisory panel but often does.
12,000 die each year
There is currently no vaccine for the hepatitis C virus, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 12,000 people die each year of liver disease and liver cancer associated with the illness.
Most people infected with hepatitis C live symptom-free for years, but once it is discovered it is often too late for it to respond to the current two-drug treatment.
In the past the disease could be spread through contact with infected blood products, and is still contracted by drug users sharing needles, or straws during the use of cocaine, or by unprotected sex with a sufferer. - (Sapa/AFP, April 2011)
US panel backs hepatitis C drug