Drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. said Thursday that an experimental combination of two hepatitis C drugs — its daclatasvir and Gilead Sciences Inc.’s blockbuster drug Sovaldi — cured hepatitis C in just 12 weeks in nearly all the patients, who also are infected with the HIV virus.
Treating patients who have both viruses is difficult because of problems with interactions of the different drugs needed to treat each.
In the late-stage study, 97 percent of the participants were cured of hepatitis C. They included 151 patients who had never been treated for hepatitis C and 52 who had previously received other treatments for the liver-destroying virus.
Roughly 3 million people in the U.S. have hepatitis C, though many were infected years ago and don’t know it because the symptoms are silent until the disease is well advanced. Up to 20 percent will develop scarring of the liver, called cirrhosis, and of those, 20 percent could develop liver cancer.
Dr. David Wyles, an associate professor at University of California-San Diego’s Department of Medicine who led the study, said in a statement that it showed the dosing flexibility of the two-drug combination tested “did not require alteration of HIV medications because of potential drug-drug interactions.”
Sovaldi and two other recently approved hepatitis C drugs — Gilead’s Harvoni and AbbVie Inc.’s Viekira Pak — have brought tremendous advances in treating hepatitis C, which is transmitted through infected blood. Until those new drugs were approved, treatment generally lasted a year or more, included weekly injections that caused terrible flu-like symptoms, and still only cured about two-thirds of the patients.
While doctors and patients have embraced the new drugs, they are ultra-expensive, each with a list price of $83,000 or more for one course of treatment. However, insurers have been forcing Gilead and AbbVie to compete on price to get preferred standing in their formularies of approved drugs, and have been winning substantial discounts — as much as 46 percent off the prices of the Gilead drugs, for instance.
New York-based Bristol-Myers says daclatasvir is under review by the Food and Drug Administration. It’s already approved in Europe, Japan and Brazil.