Companies Scramble to Make Hepatitis C Drugs as Diseases’ Death Rate to Surpass HIV Death Rate by 2010
With the death toll from hepatitis C expected to exceed that of HIV/AIDS within a decade, scientists and drug firms are racing to develop drugs to combat the potentially deadly liver disease, Forbes reports. According to the CDC, the annual U.S. mortality rate of hepatitis C will "overtake" that of HIV by 2010. Scientists have been "stymied" by the disease because its replication method is difficult to block. However, several drug makers have developed medicines that could boost "cure rates" by 40% to 56%. While a "cure" for hepatitis C is defined as a drug that causes a patient to be virus-free for six months, some doctors hope to eradicate the disease entirely. Because hepatitis C lives outside the cell nucleus in the cytoplasm, it is accessed more easily by new drugs, which can "make a clean sweep" and eliminate the virus. Below are some of the new drugs in the pipeline:
- Schering-Plough: Schering-Plough has "locked up the exclusive rights" to the hepatitis C-fighting drug ribavirin, which is currently sold only in conjunction with interferon-alpha as part of Schering's two-drug treatment, Rebetron (Wherry, Forbes, 8/20). Schering recently received FDA permission to sell its versions of ribavirin and interferon-alpha drugs separately, and will begin doing so this fall (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/27). Schering recently developed a new, once-a-week form of interferon-alpha called Peg-Intron, which was approved by the FDA this week for use in combination therapy with ribavirin (Schering-Plough release, 8/8). Peg-Intron, which is a combination of interferon and polyethylene glycol, has reported cure rates "above 50%." Schering is also developing an anti-hepatitis protease inhibitor that the company hopes to market in pill form.
- Hoffmann-La Roche: Hoffmann-La Roche has had "similar" cure rates with its new polyethylene glycol-interferon combination, Pegasys. Because other companies are beginning to manufacture ribavirin, Hoffmann-La Roche plans to market a combination therapy of Pegasys and ribavirin.
- Sci-Clone: Sci-Clone is working on Zadaxin, an injection drug that contains interferon and thymosin Alpha 1, a natural peptide that helps the body produce T cells. Although Zadaxin has no side effects, it has shown "little promise" in treating hepatitis C when taken alone. When Zadaxin is taken in combination with interferon and ribavirin, however, cure rates "approach 60%." Although Zadaxin has been approved in 24 countries, Sci-Clone has had to extend testing to gain FDA approval. However, analysts at UBS Warburg estimate that if Zadaxin is approved in 2004, the drug's sales could soon total $200 million.
- Maxim Pharmaceuticals: Maxim is developing a "rival" form of Zadaxin that is in late-stage testing.
- BioMedicines: BioMedicines has developed a titanium device that when implanted in the upper arm releases the company's Omega interferon. The implant would release the interferon over a period of three months to a year. By dispensing a steady stream of the drug, the device would block the virus from replicating.