Two Companies Announce Development of Protease Inhibitor to Treat Hepatitis C
Drug maker Eli Lilly and Co. and biotechnology firm Vertex Pharmaceuticals are expected to announce today that they have created a protease inhibitor to treat hepatitis C, the New York Times reports. The companies say that their drug compound blocks the protease enzyme, which the hepatitis C virus needs to replicate. Protease inhibitors are also used to treat HIV infection and have had a "significant effect in treating" the virus, the Times reports. Protease inhibitors typically bind to the "nooks and crannies" on the surface of the protease enzyme, but designing a protease inhibitor to treat hepatitis C has been more difficult than developing an HIV-oriented protease inhibitor because the protease of the two viruses vary in shape. The surface of the HIV protease has "a deep hole in it," but the surface of the hepatitis C protease is "practically flat," making it more difficult for a drug to bind to it. "Instead of stuffing a bomb in a cave, which is what the HIV protease inhibitor does, it's like climbing a sheer rock face," Vertex CEO Dr. Joshua Boger said. Human trials of the new hepatitis C drug, which can be taken orally, are expected to begin in 2003, and some animal tests have indicated that the medicine is not toxic. Boger said he believed that Vertex and Eli Lilly are the first companies to announce the development of a hepatitis C protease inhibitor, although Charles Rice, executive and scientific director for Center for the Study of Hepatitis C at Rockefeller University, said he believes other companies "might also be close" to developing hepatitis C-oriented protease inhibitors. Rice added that some companies are developing other forms of hepatitis C treatment. Vertex, which has been working on a hepatitis C drug for five years, will receive $5 million from Eli Lilly in payment for its research (Pollack, New York Times, 1/7).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.