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New Drugs for Hepatitis C Not Completely Safe

This photo provided by Gilead Sciences, Inc. shows the drug Epclusa. Federal health officials on Tuesday, June 28, 2016, approved the first pill to treat all major forms of hepatitis C, the latest in a series of drug approvals that have reshaped treatment of the liver-destroying virus. The Food and Drug Administration approved the combination pill, Epclusa, from Gilead Sciences, for patients with and without liver damage. The new drug's broad indication could make it easier to use than five other hepatitis drugs recently approved by the FDA, which are each tailored to different viral strains or stages of liver disease. (Gilead Sciences, Inc. via AP)

Hepatitis C is a chronic disorder with no cure. Unlike Hepatitis B, there is no vaccine to prevent this infection. The few available drugs do not always work and there is a constant search for new medications. However, the latest drugs used to treat hepatitis C have raised concerns about serious adverse effects and possible liver failure.

In a recent study, the number of serious adverse effects from these antiviral drugs has raised concern. Even though the side effects were not many, specialists have issued a warning to doctors who prescribe the relatively new, nine antiviral drugs that have been touted to be a major advance for the treatment of Hepatitis C with high cure rates.

Findings from the latest study are published by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices and their findings are typically used by the FDA to further circulate any important concerns and safety issues from drugs to doctors and healthcare providers globally.

Dr Robert Brown, Director of the Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation at New York Presbyterian at Columbia and Weil Cornell, who was not actively involved in this present study, had previously mentioned about problems with these new antiviral drugs and that they should be investigated more thoroughly before introducing them into clinical practice. He also highlights the problem of incorrect prescribing where doctors prescribe these drugs to patients with poor liver function which could cause more harm than good.

Hepatitis C is a major health problem, caused by a virus that leads to chronic liver disease in most people who acquire it. A great many of these people go on to develop liver cancer or end stage liver disease.

In the US alone, it is estimated that nearly 3 -3.9 million people have acquired Hepatitis C and each year close to 20,000 people die from it. Today, hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplantation. Globally it is estimated that there are 130-150 million cases of Hepatitis C with nearly 700,000 deaths annually. The hepatitis C virus is usually acquired from blood transfusion or sharing needles among people who use illicit drugs.

The newer drugs are prohibitively expensive. In the latest study of the 250,000 people who took these medications, there were 524 cases of liver failure, of which 165 have died. Another 1,058 had severe liver injury and in nearly 761 patients the drugs did not work.