Earlier this year the FDA approved telaprevir (Incivek) from Vertex Pharmaceuticals and boceprevir (Victrelis) from Merck for the treatment of hepatitis C. Both agents are protease inhibitors and represent the first approvals of direct acting antivirals for hepatitis C. Direct acting antivirals are a broad class of agents that act to block the growth of viruses by directly disrupting essential viral functions. The benefit of these drugs for hepatitis C follows the dramatic success of this class over the last 15 years in HIV. Now the future advances of direct acting antiviral therapy for hepatitis C is expected to follow a central theme of their use in HIV: that combination of multiple antivirals in a single treatment regimen will provide greater benefit than use of any one antiviral drug alone.
The new protease inhibitors were approved for use only in combination with two previously approved agents, pegylated interferon and ribavirin. The addition of either protease inhibitor increased clinical cure rates, known formally as sustained viral response (SVR) rates, by 30 to 40 percentage points over control groups receiving the standard pegylated interferon and ribavirin alone. As dramatic as these improvements are, there is a good chance for even more dramatic improvements if all-oral regimens, assembled by combining multiple direct acting antivirals, are able to maintain high cure rates while eliminating injectable interferon and its associated flu-like side effects that patients have long sought to avoid.
Next in the development queue are three agents that entered Phase III development this year, including two additional protease inhibitors (TMC435 from Johnson & Johnson’s Tibotec unit and BI201335 from Boehringer Ingelheim) and a cyclophilin inhibitor that disrupts a host function required for viral replication (alisporivir from Novartis). All three Phase III programs are exploring a modality similar to the approved agents, i.e. addition of a single new agent to the standard pegylated interferon/ribavirin. The ongoing Phase III programs will hope to demonstrate one or more advantage over the recently approved agents, potentially including better tolerability, further increases in cure rates, shorter duration of therapy and/or an increased proportion of patients successfully treated with shortened therapy. While such improvements may well be achieved, they may become less important or even irrelevant if the rapidly expanding number of direct acting antiviral combination trials leads to identification of new regimens that surpass all regimens that are based on a single antiviral drug added to the old standard regimen.
Investigation of direct acting antiviral combination regimens has exploded in the last 12 months. This advance has become possible because of the diversity of antiviral mechanisms distinct from protease inhibitors that are now represented in the pipeline of hepatitis C drugs in Phase II development across the industry. Diverse mechanisms are important because they typically provide distinct resistance profiles, and antiviral combinations are being assembled using new compounds with non-overlapping resistance profiles to provide a greater barrier to the development of antiviral resistance. Additional factors that are considered important in assembling optimal combinations include the safety and tolerability profile of each agent, compatible pharmacokinetic profiles and a low potential for unfavorable drug-drug interactions. The more extensively characterized each individual antiviral drug is, the lower the risk of … Next Page »
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