For the second time in two weeks, the FDA has approved a new drug for the treatment of hepatitis C.
The new drugs, called Sovaldi and Olysio, promise to quickly cure a majority of patients with very few side effects. That marks a dramatic change from current treatment options.
Nearly 3 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C, which can cause potentially life-threatening liver diseases. One of the current main treatment options is an injection of interferon, which has side effects so severe that only half of patients can tolerate it.
But now, new medication is providing more hope.
“These new medications will take us a step further in our ability to cure patients,” said Pierre Gholam of the University Hospitals of Cleveland Case Medical Center. “We now easily go into the 80 to 90 percent cure rate.”
Patients take a pill just once a day. The treatment takes a matter of weeks instead of months.
Some will still need interferon injections, but those who can eliminate the shots have minimal side effects. The drugs can be given to patients at any stage of the disease.
“It will allow many patients to avoid the complications of liver disease down the line, which include the development of cirrhosis and need for liver transplant, and liver cancer," Gholam said.
Because hepatitis C is so prevalent among baby boomers, the Center for Disease Control recently recommended anyone born between 1945 and 1965 get tested. Doctors say that testing could inform up to a million people who don’t know they are infected.
With these new treatment options, it appears more will be spared the devastating consequences of this virus. The projected cost of the new drugs runs into the tens of thousands of dollars.