The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announces that it has approved Incivek (telaprevir) to treat certain adults with chronic hepatitis C infection. Incivek is used for patients who have either not received interferon-based drug therapy for their infection or who have not responded adequately to prior therapies. Incivek is approved for use with interferon therapy made up of peginterferon alfa and ribavirin.
The current standard of care for patients with chronic hepatitis C infection is peginterferon alfa and ribavirin taken for 48 weeks. Less than 50 percent of patients respond to this therapy.
The safety and effectiveness of Incivek was evaluated in three phase 3 clinical trials with about 2,250 adult patients who were previously untreated, or who had received prior therapy. In all studies patients also received the drug with standard of care. In previously untreated patients, 79 percent of those receiving Incivek experienced a sustained virologic response (i.e. the infection was no longer detected in the blood 24 weeks after stopping treatment) compared to standard treatment alone.
The sustained virologic response for patients treated with Incivek across all studies, and across all patient groups, was between 20 and 45 percent higher than current standard of care.
The studies indicate that treatment with Incivek can be shortened from 48 weeks to 24 weeks in most patients. Sixty percent of previously untreated patients achieved an early response and received only 24 weeks of treatment (compared to the standard of care of 48 weeks). The sustained virologic response for these patients was 90 percent.
When a person achieves a sustained virologic response after completing treatment, this suggests that the hepatitis C infection has been cured.
Sustained virologic response can result in decreased cirrhosis and complications of liver disease, decreased rates of liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma), and decreased mortality.
"With the approval of Incivek, there are now two important new treatment options for hepatitis C that offer a greater chance at a cure for some patients with this serious condition," says Edward Cox, MD, MPH, director of the Office of Antimicrobial Products in FDAs Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "The availability of new therapies that significantly increase responses while potentially decreasing the overall duration of treatment is a major step forward in the battle against chronic hepatitis C infection."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 3.2 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C infection, a viral disease that causes inflammation of the liver that can lead to diminished liver function or liver failure.
Most people with hepatitis have no symptoms of the disease until liver damage occurs, which may take several years.
Most liver transplants performed in the United States are due to progressive liver disease caused by hepatitis C virus infection. After the initial infection with hepatitis C (HCV), most people develop chronic hepatitis C. Some will develop cirrhosis of the liver over many years. Cirrhosis can lead to liver damage with complications such as bleeding, jaundice (yellowish eyes or skin), fluid accumulation in abdomen, infections, or liver cancer.
People can get HCV in a number of ways, including: exposure to blood that is infected with the virus; being born to a mother with HCV; sharing a needle; having sex with an infected person; sharing personal items such as a razor or toothbrush with someone who is infected with the virus, or from unsterilized tattoo or piercing tools.
Incivek is a pill taken three times a day with food. Incivek should be taken for the first 12 weeks in combination with peginterferon alfa and ribavirin. Most people with a good early response to the Incivek combination regimen can be treated for 24 weeks rather than the recommended 48 weeks of treatment with the standard of care. Incivek is part of a class of drugs referred to as protease inhibitors, which work by binding to the virus and preventing it from multiplying.
The most commonly reported side effects in patients receiving Incivek in combination with peginterferon alfa and ribavirin include rash, low red blood cell count (anemia), nausea, fatigue, headache, diarrhea, itching (pruritus), and anal or rectal irritation and pain. Rash can be serious and can require stopping Incivek or all three drugs in the treatment regimen.
On May 13, FDA approved Victrelis (boceprevir), another new treatment for chronic hepatitis C, marketed by Merck of Whitehouse Station, N.J.
Incivek is marketed by Cambridge, Mass.-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals.