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FDA approves new hepatitis C drug

May 23, 2011 6:05:37 PM PDT
There's been an important medical development in what doctors are calling a turning point in the fight against hepatitis C, a terrible disease that can lead to liver failure. The FDA has just approved a new medicine that could be a major step forward.

Rene Pefley has been battling the effects of hepatitis C for more than a decade. "It's hard, it's tough, it's rough going through it. It makes you very tired," he says.

After having her condition relapse following previous treatments, she enrolled in a clinical trial for a drug soon to marketed under the name Incivek. Her doctor, Natalie Bzowej of the California Pacific Medical Center, says the stakes are high given that hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver transplants.

"Rene is one stage away from cirrhosis of the liver and she's still a very young woman," says Bzowej. "So there's a significant chance that she would have progressed to end stage liver disease during her lifetime."

But instead of a transplant, Pefley's disease has stabilized. When Incivek was added to the current drug regimen in clinical trials, 79 percent of patients achieved what is considered an effective viral cure.

"It marks a turning point in the treatment of hepatitis C," says Bzowej. "Right now... we cure less than half the people in the United States, and with the FDA approval of this medication, we're going to cure close to 80 percent."

Pefley says she's anxious to get back to her life and doing the things she hasn't had the energy to do.

"I want to get back to work," she says. "I have seven grandchildren and I want to get back to playing with them and doing things with them."

Doctors say the new drug works in a similar way to the medications now used to fight HIV, by blocking an enzyme that the hepatitis C virus needs to replicate itself inside the body.

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