Hepatitis C drugs appear to help virus sufferers

Hazel Heal
Hazel Heal
Hospital trials of drugs used to treat hepatitis C patients, driven by a Dunedin campaigner, have been lauded after improving survival in Covid-19 patients.

The results of three trials in Iran of drugs sofosbuvir plus daclatasvir show significantly faster rates of recovery and improved survival for patients hospitalised with the virus.

The results have been praised by United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases head Dr Anthony Fauci, who told media they were "really quite interesting and provocative and encouraging".

"We desperately need antivirals that can be given early on in the course [of the disease] to prevent individuals from requiring hospitalisation," he said.

"I’d encourage that we do further studies to nail this down."

And the joint global effort has been driven in part by Dunedin human rights lawyer and Edmund Hillary Fellow Hazel Heal.

Ms Heal, also a campaigner for hepatitis C treatment after her own experience with it, used her connections with the fellowship to create links between medical professionals and researchers, and attract fundraisers.

She described the results of the trials as vindicating.

"We’re being listened to and taken seriously by the people who need to do that," she said.

"The spark came from us being able to amplify [Tasmanian doctor] James Freeman’s research and spread it to the right people. It’s pretty amazing."

The drug combination, which Ms Heal had taken herself, already has a high profile regarding the treatment of hepatitis C patients.

The trial results were presented on Thursday at an international HIV/Aids conference.

Three clinical trials involving a total of 176 patients were conducted in three cities in Iran during their first wave of the epidemic.

After 14 days of treatment, 94% of patients taking sofosbuvir/daclatasvir showed clinical recovery versus 70% on a control treatment.

The death rate for people taking sofosbuvir plus daclatasvir was 5%, versus 20% for people taking control treatment.

The results were considered preliminary, and it was too early to reach a definitive verdict.

Teheran University of Medical Sciences Professor Shahin Merat said five new clinical trials of the drugs had been set up for more than 2000 patients in Iran, Brazil, Egypt and South Africa.

"By October, we should know from the trial results if this treatment could be approved for worldwide use.

"Conducting research amidst a pandemic with overwhelmed hospitals is a challenge and we cannot be sure of success."




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