15 May 2011

New drug approved for hepatitis C

11:45 am on 15 May 2011

An innovative drug treatment for the blood-borne disease hepatitis C has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

It's reported to be the first new treatment in 20 years for the disease, which can cause cirrhosis, liver failure and cancer. It can also be fatal.

An FDA official says the new drug offers a greater chance of cure for some patients compared to older treatments.

The BBC reports the drug, known as boceprevir, works by blocking an enzyme that helps the hepatitis C virus reproduce. This is in contrast to existing drugs, which work by boosting the body's immune system.

Boceprevir must, however, be used in conjunction with those immune-boosting drugs.

It is recommended for use by adult patients who still have some liver function, who have not taken other drugs for their condition, or who have failed to respond to other drug treatments.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 3% of the world's population is infected with hepatitis C.