Washington, May 15 : Researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center have found a new treatment for Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne infectious disease that is caused by Hepatitis C virus (HCV), infecting the liver. The infection can cause liver inflammation (hepatitis) that is often asymptomatic, but ensuing chronic hepatitis can result later in cirrhosis (fibrotic scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.
In a study of 31 veterans at the Veteran's Administration Medical Center in Oklahoma City, researchers found that Fluvastatin - a drug that has been approved since 1993 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of elevated cholesterol in adults - significantly lowered the viral load, or levels of hepatitis C virus, for up to six weeks when used alone.
"This research is the first to demonstrate the antiviral activity of Fluvastatin in human beings infected with hepatitis C, most of whom were non-responders to the standard of care treatment," said Ted Bader, M.D., the principle investigator on the project and the director of liver diseases at the OU Health Sciences Center.
Since Fluvastatin will not completely clear the hepatitis C virus by itself, scientists have started a phase II randomized, controlled trial that combines Fluvastatin with the standard treatment of peg-interferon and ribavirin.
They hope to use the combination of medicines to significantly improve the cure rate for hepatitis C. After further required testing and approval, the drug could be available as a new treatment for hepatitis C far sooner than any other anti-hepatitis C drug currently under research and development.
"We need additional drugs to add to this regimen to improve the cure rate. When patients are cured, they feel dramatically better, their health care costs plummet, their risk of liver cancer drops dramatically, and if they do not have cirrhosis, they will not need a liver transplant. Moreover, they are no longer infectious," Bader said.
In the initial investigative study funded by the VA Research Foundation of Oklahoma City and Dr. Michael Bronze at the OU College of Medicine, veterans with chronic HCV were given oral doses of Fluvastatin daily for two to 12 weeks.
Within a month, half of the patients showed a reduction of the virus. One patient's viral load was about 50 times lower than before taking Fluvastatin.
The study is published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.