Protease inhibitors in hepatitis C: from chronic disease to cure.


The recent publication of two controlled trials on boceprevir and three on telaprevir heralds a new era for hepatitis C therapy. Bocreprevir and telaprevir are protease inhibitors which act directly on the hepatitis C virus to inhibit replication and are referred to as direct acting antiviral agents (DAAâ?Ts). They are the first 2 such agents to be licensed but it is hoped that many more will soon follow. These are very important studies and represent a major advance in treatment for patients with chronic hepatitis C virus infection. To appreciate their significance it is important to be aware of some of the clinical features of hepatitis C virus infection. Firstly, hepatitis C exposure leads to chronic infection in approximately 70% of patients. Over time (years or decades) this may lead to chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver failure and hepatocellular carcinoma. The speed of progression depends on a number of co-factors. Patients who are male, drink alcohol, are overweight, diabetic or co-infected with HIV have more rapid progression to cirrhosis8. In contrast young, non-drinking females progress more slowly... Many patients with hepatitis C attend drug treatment clinics. This group rarely receive anti-viral therapy but represents the bulk of the population at risk for complications of chronic hepatitis C. It has been shown that antiviral treatment in drug treatment centres, linked to methadone treatment, is very effective in ensuring compliance. As the drug treatment infrastructure already exists, widening its remit to include hepatitis C treatment should be cost effective. A recent large study from the United States confirmed that it is possible to provide effective anti-viral therapy for hepatitis C in primary care settings, provided there is appropriate back-up.

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