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Repurposing Allergy Meds to Treat Hep C

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New research targets an old, over-the-counter hay fever drug in hopes that everyone in need will be able to afford a safe and effective Hepatitis C treatment.
Repurposing Allergy Meds to Treat Hep C

Recently, the breakthroughs in Hepatitis C treatment have changed the outlook of this notoriously difficult to treat liver infection. The newer Hepatitis C medications are helping more people than ever eliminate the Hepatitis C virus from their bodies.

Unfortunately, the new antiviral drugs come with an extremely high price tag – excluding many people from receiving treatment. In search of affordable Hepatitis C treatment options, researchers have tested an inexpensive, over-the-counter allergy drug and found it to be a viable therapeutic candidate.

The Old Standard of Care

For over a decade, the Hepatitis C standard of care consisted of treatment with pegylated interferon and ribavirin. This drug combination was not ideal because:

  • Side Effects – Serious side effects are common and include reduced immunity, anemia, depression and flu-like symptoms.
  • Discontinuance – About 15 percent of patients on interferon and ribavirin had to stop treatment early due to the severity of their side effects.
  • Duration – Enduring this treatment was rough as it usually required six months to a year of treatment.
  • Low Success – For those able to complete interferon/ribavirin treatment, the maximum success rate only reached just 50 percent.

New HCV Drugs

Because of the great medical demand for better options, the standard of care for Hepatitis C has been a major focus of the pharmaceutical industry, and it has steadily been upgraded. Over the past several years, treatment protocols for this virus have boosted the Hepatitis C treatment success rate to the 90th percentile. The medications leading the way are now:

  • Olysio (simeprevir) – FDA approved November 2013.
  • Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) – FDA approved December 2013.
  • Harvoni (ledipasvir and sofosbuvir) – FDA approved October 2014.
  • Viekira Pak (ombitasvir, paritaprevir, and ritonavir; dasabuvir) – FDA approved December 2014.

Besides boasting a much higher ‘cure’ rate, these amazing drugs do so with fewer side effects and in about half the length of time than pegylated interferon and ribavirin.

However, only those with the most money, the best insurance plans, or those with the most advanced form of liver disease seem to be able to afford or qualify for these treatments. This is not a surprise, considering one dose can run somewhere in the vicinity of $1,000. Treating Hepatitis C in this manner can quickly put health insurance companies out of business, with a 12-week course of Sovaldi costing approximately $84,000, and a 12-week course of Harvoni carrying an approximate price tag of $94,500.

Antihistamine Study

In search of a more cost-effective way to defeat Hepatitis C, researchers at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD screened 3,800 drugs already FDA-approved that might have an antiviral activity against Hepatitis C infection. As published in an April 2015 edition of the journal Science Translational Medicine, human liver cells were grafted into mice to test the allergy drug chlorcyclizine HCl.

An over-the-counter antihistamine, chlorcyclizine HCl costs about $17 for 30 pills under the brand name Ahist. The research team found that chlorcyclizine HCl was a potent inhibitor of Hepatitis C infection in human liver cancer cells and human liver cells.

Although traditionally used to treat hay fever, chlorcyclizine HCl also appears to inhibit an early stage of Hepatitis C – most likely by targeting viral entry into host cells. In addition, chlorcyclizine HCl was found to be synergistic with other antiviral drugs used for Hepatitis C, such as ribavirin, interferon, telaprevir, boceprevir, sofosbuvir and daclatasvir.

The authors of the study make an interesting case for further investigation into chlorcyclizine HCl as part of Hepatitis C treatment. They claim this allergy drug (that is already FDA-approved and has a favorable safety profile) could provide a more affordable alternative to the costly Hepatitis C treatments now offered.

http://hepatitisnewstoday.com/2015/04/10/antihistamine-medication-may-be-a-promising-treatment-for-hepatitis-c/, Antihistamine Medication May Be a Promising Treatment for Hepatitis C,

http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/7/282/282ra49, Repurposing of the antihistamine chlorcyclizine and related compounds for treatment of hepatitis C virus infection, Shanshan He, et al, Retrieved April 19, 2015, Science Translational Medicine, April 2015.

http://www.aidsinfonet.org/fact_sheets/view/680, Interferon and Ribavirin, Retrieved April 23, 2015, AIDS InfoNet, 2015.

http://www.hepatitiscentral.com/news/breaking-news-viekira-pak-approved-for-hep-c/, Breaking News: Viekira Pak Approved for Hep C, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved April 24, 2015, Hepatitis Central, 2015.

http://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-159074/chlorcyclizine-hcl-chlophedianol-hcl-oral/details#, Chlorcyclizine Hcl-Chlophedianol Hcl, Retrieved April 19, 2015, WebMD, LLC, 2015.

http://www.webmd.com/hepatitis/news/20150408/cheap-allergy-drug-may-hold-potential-as-hepatitis-c-treatment, Allergy Drug May Have Potential Against Hep C, Randy Dotinga, Retrieved April 23, 2015, WebMD, LLC, 2015.

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