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Experimental drug is combating hepatitis C in chimps, researchers say

The antiviral, which is already being tested for safety in humans, has exhibited no toxic side effects and has not allowed development of resistance, a characteristic that plagues other treatments.

An experimental antiviral drug that works by a different mechanism than existing drugs has been shown to suppress hepatitis C in chimpanzees and is already being tested in human clinical trials, researchers reported Thursday.

The new agent is a so-called antisense drug that binds to RNA required by the virus for replication, preventing the virus from proliferating in the liver. Preliminary tests suggest that the drug, called SPC3649, has no toxic side effects, does not allow development of resistance -- which plagues other hepatitis drugs -- and has lasting effects after treatment has stopped.

"If you had asked me five years ago, I would have been very skeptical that this approach would work," said microbiologist Peter Sarnow of Stanford University, who was not involved in the research. But the new results, reported in the online version of the journal Science, "are very exciting," he said.

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