According to the Canadian Liver Foundation, there are approximately 170 million people worldwide who suffer from hepatitis C – and 300,000 of them live in Canada. Known as the “silent killer,” the disease often infects its victims and spreads without their knowledge. Contracted through blood-to-blood contact, hepatitis C attacks the liver and if the body is not strong enough to recover on its own, the organ can become severely damaged before treatment is sought. In addition to fatigue, loss of appetite and jaundice, advanced cases of Hep C can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, and even cancer later in life. Once initiated, therapy involves regular injections of interferon; a drug that causes flu-like symptoms and other unwanted side effects.
For years, Big Pharma companies have focused clinical research on developing alternatives to interferon. And now, Gilead has emerged as a winner with a new hepatitis C drug that has recently completed the rounds of pharmaceutical quality assurance and achieved FDA approval. Released on December 6, Sofosbuvir (which Gilead will call Sovaldi) can be used in combination with other drugs in order to reduce the need for interferon.
Sovaldi: Offering freedom from toxic injections
Sovaldi offers hepatitis patients the first oral combination therapy. Taken once a day, it works in 12 weeks for most patients – an amazing improvement on conventional therapies, which can take up to a year to work. Even in less common cases of the disease where the new drug is less effective, Sovaldi beats the benchmark by offering patients a 24-week course of medication. It’s the first in a new class of drugs called nucleotide polymerase inhibitors. Sovaldi works in conjunction with pegylated interferon and the pill ribavirin to dramatically reduce the number of injections patients require to treat infection.
Sufferers of hepatitis type 2 and 3 can say good-bye to the interferon injections all together. For these patients, an exclusively oral treatment is now an option, achieved by combining Sovaldi with Ribavirin. Gilead is the first pharmaceutical company to offer the completely injection-free therapy, and in the coming year, revenue from the drug is expected to reach $1.9 billion.
Gilead’s next big release
Currently completing trials and testing for pharmaceutical quality control, Gilead is anticipating the launch of Ledispasvir, another anti-viral drug. Set to release next year, Ledispasvir would combine with Solvaldi to provide the first all-oral therapy for the most common types of hepatitis C. Industry giants like Abbott, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Vertex Pharmaceuticals are all vying for a piece of this market, and will be working to release their own all-oral alternatives close behind Gilead.
Do you think the availability of less toxic drugs will encourage more Canadians to get tested for Hepatitis C?