New Hepatitis C Drug Approved: Janssen’s Hepatitis C Drug Simeprevir Now Available

This past week, the FDA gave approval to Janssen’s new drug to treat hepatitis C. Simeprevir, commercially know as OLYSIO, is the first new hepatitis C drug since the release of telapravir (Incevik) and boceprevir (Victrelis) in 2011. Simeprevir is a  NS3/4A protease inhibitor, used in combination with interferon and ribavirin.

The release of simeprevir marks the beginning of a new wave of direct acting antiviral agents against the hepatitis C virus. Additional drugs are set for FDA approval, including the Gilead drug sofosbuvir in early December 2013.

Most of the new hepatitis C drugs will have a number of features in common. These include:

  • Very high cure rate, in the 80-90% range – lower in null and non-responders
  • Less side effects
  • Shorter duration of treatment
  • Less pills to take each day
  • Cirrhosis reduces response rates
  • Less drug-drug interactions
  • Genotype 1 subtype differences exist

Looking at the dosing of simeprevir, I have attached the official product insert that describes how the drug will be doses. Several points to consider:

  • This is an interferon/ribavirin based therapy
  • Patients with genotype 1 need additional screening for the NS3 Q80K polymorphism
  • Those with this variant have a decreased response rate to the therapy, and should be considered for an alternative therapy
  • The initial dosing is 12 weeks of simeprevir with interferon and ribavirin, followed by an additional 12 or 36 weeks of interferon and ribavirin combination therapy.
  • There are drug-drug interaction which have to be monitored closely
  • FDA approval is for genotype 1 patients only

While the release of simeprevir is welcomed, it has not provided the proverbial “home-run” we have been looking for in our quest to cure hepatitis C. In well selected patients, achieving a better than 80% cure rate is available. The concerns I have relate to the Q80K polymorphism noted above. This will be an additional step required in screening our patients. Additionally, in patients with prior non-response or null responders, as well as those with cirrhosis, these patients will still require a full 48 week of interferon and ribavirin. One of the goals of the next generation of hepatitis C therapies is reduced interferon exposure, or complete elimination. Simeprevir does not fully meet this goal.

In the days to come, I will post additional information on sofosbuvir. For now, these are the highlights to consider (refer to this FDA document for additional details):

  • Sofosbuvir will likely receive FDA approval for Genotype 1,2,3, and 4 patients with hepatitis C
  • Interferon-free treatment in genotype 2 and 3 for 12 weeks
  • Sofosbuvir combined with interferon and ribavirin in genotype 1 and 4 for 12 to 16 weeks

This treatment strategy is far different than the simeprevir treatment noted above.

Looking further, we will eventually have all interferon-free protocols. It is anticipated that as additional new drugs are approved, they will be combined (example sofosbuvir and simeprevir), allowing us to treat a wide range of patients, safely, and with a cure rate many of us may have never envisioned 20 years ago.

For a consultation to see if you are a candidate for these new drugs, contact Lexa at our office at 713-794-0700 and visit our webpage for additional information.

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