People infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) face a long road of drug treatment that, in the best cases, can cure their infections and allow their livers to recover from HCV-associated liver disease, whose symptoms range from scarring and cancer to organ failure. Unfortunately, for nearly half of those treated for the most common strain of HCV, the standard antiviral drugs do not succeed in clearing the virus. And, even in cases where the drug regime is effective, flulike symptoms, depression and anemia are common side effects during the 48-week treatment period.
Here is the crux of the current treatment dilemma: When John McHutchison, a liver specialist at the Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI) in Durham, N.C., discusses with his patients whether to begin treatment for their chronic HCV infections, he tells them that it would give them about a 40 percent chance of curing their infection. The HCV regime contains two nonspecific antiviral drugs called interferon and ribavirin. But, he also tells his patients nowadays that in about 18 months new treatments could be available that improve their chances. "Many of them who have not responded to our current treatment are waiting for these new [HCV] drugs," he says.