Hepatitis C-Related Deaths Expected To Triple Over Next 10 Years; New Treatments Years From ApprovalCDC has estimated that the number of hepatitis C-related deaths in the United States will triple over the next 10 years, the Wall Street Journal reports. About 8,000 to 10,000 people in the United States die annually of complications related to hepatitis C, which often lies dormant for decades after transmission, according to the Journal. Many people who are getting sick with the disease today were infected sometime between the mid-1960s and the 1980s through shared needles, blood transfusion or, less commonly, unprotected sex, according to the Journal. About 67% of people living with hepatitis C are white, male baby boomers who live above the poverty line, according to CDC data. "The majority of my patients experimented with drugs during the '60s and '70s and now work on Wall Street," Robert Brown, medical director for the Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, said. About 80% of people living with hepatitis C -- which is the leading cause of chronic liver disease -- never experience symptoms, and 20% clear the virus without treatment, according to the CDC. There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C.
Although drug treatments for hepatitis C have improved greatly since an effective test was developed in 1992, current treatments are effective only for about 50% of patients, according to the Journal. Antiviral drugs produced by Roche and Schering-Plough -- the market leaders in hepatitis C treatment -- include 48-week regimens of daily pills and weekly injections, often with flu-like side effects, according to the Journal. However, new treatments in clinical trials by the Cambridge, Mass.-based companies Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Idenix Pharmaceuticals might offer patients better results with fewer side effects, the Journal reports (Davies, Wall Street Journal, 5/31). Vertex's drug VX-950 is in a class known as protease inhibitors, which inhibit the reproduction of hepatitis C, Long Island Newsday reports. The drugs, which are similar to protease inhibitors used to treat HIV infection, are "generating much of the current buzz" in hepatitis C therapy, but FDA approval might be "years away," according to Newsday. "From where we sit, we're not on the doorstep of new treatments that are going to be in the marketplace this year," Vertex Chair and CEO Joshua Boger said, adding, "But we are on the doorstep of mid-stage clinical trials that are going to usher in a paradigm shift for clinical treatment" (Nelson, Long Island Newsday, 5/31).