The hepatitis C virus has always been an unusual disease. Largely symptom-free in its early stages, many people are unaware for many years that they have contracted the virus. But if left untreated, hepatitis C can eventually cause severe liver damage that may necessitate an organ transplant. Until recently, physicians have had only limited success in combating the hepatitis C virus, administering a lengthy combination of two drugs that completely cured less than half of the patients treated.
However, in recent months the forecast for curing hepatitis C patients became much sunnier. The near simultaneous FDA approval of not one, but two new therapies for the virus – called telaprevir and boceprevir – promises to dramatically improve the cure rate for the disease and prevent serious cases of liver cirrhosis and cancer. The two drugs are members of the same protease inhibitor class that has revolutionized HIV treatment, and adding one to the previous two hepatitis C therapies (forming what’s known as “triple therapy”) promises to increase cure rates to as high as 80 percent.
But new therapies bring loads of new questions and considerations for patients. At the University of Chicago Center for Liver Disease, which takes care of hundreds of hepatitis C patients, physicians Donald Jensen and Andrew Aronsohn organized a series of patient education sessions to address how the new therapies change the landscape of the disease. While many patients have been waiting years for the approval of telaprevir and boceprevir, choosing the right time to begin therapy is no simple decision. Because the therapy still takes between 24 and 48 weeks to complete, and must be closely monitored to make sure the protocol is successfully followed by the patient, hepatitis C clinics can only start treating so many patients at a time. In an editorial for the journal Hepatology, Jensen and Aronsohn explained why the University of Chicago has thus chosen to treat the sickest patients first, asking hepatitis C patients in the earlier, less severe stages of the infection to delay their therapy with the new agents.
To further spread information about these decisions, the basics of hepatitis C, and the impact of the new therapies, Jensen and Aronsohn agreed to film a series of videos for ScienceLife. Watch as the two physicians explain how the new therapies work, what patients can expect from the new treatment protocol, and why it is important for patients and their physician to choose the right time to start therapy.