VANCOUVER — A new drug, recently approved by Health Canada, brings a cure closer for the 250,000 hepatitis C sufferers across Canada.
Boceprevir — brand name victrelis — when added to current standard therapy has been shown to have higher cure rates in studies published early this year by the New England Journal of Medicine.
A similar drug, telaprevir, is under 'priority review' at Health Canada.
"Given the prevalence of the disease, this is a significant development" said Dr. Alnoor Ramji, clinical assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. "The new medicine is part of a new generation of drugs that offer patients a greater hope for a cure."
The approval is just what Abbotsford resident Chris Robinson, 51, has been waiting for since he was diagnosed with cirrhosis caused by chronic hepatitis C infection last year.
"I asked the doctor, what this drug will do and he said, 'It will cure you'," said Robinson.
Robinson's doctors have withheld treatment to date, as the advanced nature of his condition made current treatments risky.
Unlike current treatments that work by boosting the immune system, this new type of drug works directly against the virus by inhibiting an enzyme that the virus needs in order to replicate, said Ramji — who was also involved in the clinical trials of boceprevir in Canada.
"When added to the current cocktail of drugs, the new drugs take the effectiveness rate to 67 per cent from the current rate of about 40 per cent," said Ramji.
The other advantage, he said, is that these treatments have the potential to shorten the treatment period — from 48 weeks to about 28 weeks — depending on the response of the patient, reducing the impact of serious side-effects.
Hepatitis C is a virus that is transmitted through the blood. It infects the liver, causing it to become inflamed and preventing it from working properly. It is often the cause of severe liver disease including cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Fever, fatigue, reduced appetite, stomach pain, dark urine, jaundice (yellowing of skin or eyes), nausea and vomiting, aching muscles and joints, poor concentration, anxiety and depression are some of the symptoms.
There is no vaccine against hepatitis C and it can be acquired in numerous ways, including sharing razors, toothbrushes and scissors with an infected person. Injection drug use — current or past — is the cause of approximately 60 per cent of infections in Canada.
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