Sunday, November 2, 2008

A New Hepatitis C Treatment Could Save My Life

I have hepatitis C. It's a disease without a cure, plagues four million Americans and is the leading cause of liver transplants in the US and Europe. I have type A, which is the most common genotype in the US and most difficult to treat.

My transplant center has a highly regarded hep C research and treatment clinic, which benefits me because hep C doesn't go away after a transplant. The virus spreads throughout your body and surgery removes only the organ damaged by the virus; it doesn't eradicate hep C from your body. For transplant patients like me who have hep C, the hope is that the virus will kick-back and maintain a low profile for a few years after surgery, before starting to scar (called fibrosis, the precursor to cirrhosis) the new liver.

Sadly, my virus is literally and figuratively "Type A." (Get it? Ha ha, well, uh I guess it's really not that funny.) Fibrosis grade 2 to 3 was discovered in my liver four months after my transplant and not long after that, I began the standard treatment (pegulated interferon and ribavirin). Even more sadly, 12 weeks of shots, pills and feeling like crap later, we discovered that treatment didn't clear the virus from my system.

[On the upside, my most recent biopsy (June 2008) showed that my liver actually looked better than it did 14 months earlier with the fibrosis only at grade 1 to 2.]

Nonetheless, I know that my new liver is vulnerable and I'm concerned because my transplant center doesn't perform second transplants on patients whose livers are damaged by cirrhosis (regardless of whether cirrhosis was caused by hep C, alcoholism or another condition). The chief liver transplant surgeon told us this prior to my surgery but at the time, it didn't register. Back then I was focused the countless details involved with my first transplant and a second transplant just didn't seem to warrant consideration; now, it's top of mind.

Because of my susceptibility I try to keep informed about the promising new drugs currently in development, one of which was featured in a story posted yesterday on Schering-Plough released phase II data about its clinical trials for boceprevir at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. Results indicate that boceprevir used in combination with the standard treatment is statistically more effective in clearing the hep C virus. Additional improvement is noted if patients start standard treatment before boceprevir is introduced.

You go, Schering-Plough and Vertex Pharmaceuticals and all you other drug companies and scientists who work hard to find new treatments and/or a cure for hep C! Along with 170 million other people around the world who are infected with hep C, I give you thanks and, if I could, I'd give each of you a gigantic hug. You’re my heroes.

I'm curious to get your thoughts about clinical trials and funding for medical research and, in particular, drug development. People have such varied opinions about who pays for drug research and whether government funds should be spent on these endeavors.

Personally, I wish we could take even 10 percent of the money spent on the 2008 presidential election and put it toward something positive and useful, like medical research.

1 comment:

nickysam said...

Hepatitis C is a major health problem in most parts of the world. There are a variety of new treatment possibilities including agents designed to inhibit certain enzymes that the hepatitis C virus uses to develop and replicate. A growing literature documents the neuropsychiatric side effects of interferon treatment for hepatitis C infection, predominantly, mood changes, which are preventable and treatable with antidepressant medications.

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