11/18/2015 02:04 EST | Updated 11/18/2015 02:59 EST

Hepatitis C Virus Can Be Cured In 12 Weeks With Drug Course: Study

A Canadian study published this week in The New England Medical Journal showed that a simple 12-week course of a pharmaceutical treatment cured 99% of the study's participants of the hepatitis C virus.

Researchers at the Toronto Western Hospital (TWH) studied patients with hepatitis C, also known as HCV, who were receiving a combination of drugs sofosbuvir-velpatasvir once a day. The study included a mix of patients who both had and had not previously been treated for hepatitis C. Participants also included patients with compensated cirrhosis, where scarring of the liver has already occurred but the patient is not yet displaying symptoms.

The study was carried out on 740 participants across 8 different countries. A total of 624 participants received the daily drug combination to treat hepatitis C, while 116 participants received a placebo drug. After the 12 weeks had finished, 99% of the participants receiving the daily drug showed an eradication of hepatitis C, and continued to show the eradication for three months after the end of the trial. None of the participants taking the placebo showed the same results.

Dr. Jordan Feld, Hepatologist at the Francis Family Liver Clinic, TWH, and the first author of the study commented on the results saying, "This drug regimen changes the standard of care in treating patients with HCV -- we can now cure almost everyone with a very simple treatment. It's incredibly gratifying to be part of research where we not only cure a disease but can also think about eliminating HCV in Canada."

Hepatitis C is known as a ‘silent' killer because symptoms often don't appear until too late, when the liver is already damaged. Hepatitis C is most commonly contracted through blood-to-blood contact, often through intravenous drug use or poorly sterilized medical equipment. It can also be as a result of a blood transfusion before 1992. In Canada an estimated 252,000 people are infected with hepatitis C, with around 170 million infected worldwide.

The results come just months after it was reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine that U.S. researchers had found a drug used to treat common allergy symptoms of coughing, sneezing, and a runny nose had been effective in treating hepatitis C in lab rats carrying human liver cells. The drug, which costs around 50 cents per pill, is a fraction of the cost of the more recent treatments to cure the disease, which cost at least $8000 for a four-month regimen. Researchers have since called for clinical trials on the drug, known as CCZ, to test its full effectiveness in humans.

Former "Baywatch" star Pamela Anderson announced earlier this month that she has been cured of hepatitis C. The actress, who announced in 2002 that she had been diagnosed with the disease, has not revealed details about the treatment she received.

Full details of the study can be found in The New England Journal of Medicine online.

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