March 26, 2013
Atlantic Gastroenterology Associates, a clinic in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., is one of 20 clinics involved in research, testing new treatments for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Traditionally, the disease affected at-risk groups such as injection-drug users and those who had unsafe sex; but now, according to CDC, approximately 75 percent of HCV cases are baby boomers due to the lack of testing for the virus in blood before 1992 and to previous risky behavior. HCV cases have increased in New Jersey with 7,000 people diagnosed every year. New cases of HCV have tripled between 2001 and 2011 in Atlantic County; Cumberland County had an increase of 454 percent to 338 in 2011, and Cape May County cases increased 580 percent.
The most current treatment is interferon therapy, in the form of a once-a-week injection, in combination with other drugs over 24 or 48 weeks. Interferon therapy causes side effects that can affect a patient's ability to work and participate in other activities. Trials of less-invasive therapy involving polymerase and protease inhibitors taken orally over 12 weeks are being monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Dr. John J. Santoro of Atlantic Gastroenterology Associates noted that patients have shown a 95 percent "cure rate" on the new therapy, meaning that lab tests show undetectable levels of the virus in 95 percent of patients who complete treatment. That result compared favorably to the 80 percent cure rates of recently developed drugs Telaprevir and Boceprevir, for which the clinic also conducted trials prior to FDA approval in 2011.
Santoro's clinic has treated approximately 30 patients with the new therapy and is about to begin another trial with six to 10 patients. One of the drugs being tested is Sofosbuvir, which was developed by Pharmasset Inc. of Princeton in 2011, but the company was later purchased by Gilead Sciences. Dr. Santoro commented that for the most part there are no side effects. He said, "In general, patients think they're on placebo because they're not experiencing the side effects."