11:05am Friday 18 August 2017

Administering two new pharmaceutical drugs to combat hepatitis C increases rate of cure from 45% to 75%

This meeting, organised by the Innovation in Pharmacological Therapeutics initiative, together with the University Hospital of Navarra and the pharmaceutical company Janssen-Cilag, directed by Doctor Jesús Honorato, brought together nine specialists in this illness and which has a prevalence in Spain of between 1.5% and 2.5 % of the population.

The use of these new medicines puts forward a new scenario in treating hepatitis C and which, at the meeting, was analysed from different perspectives: that of the patient, of administration, that of the pharmaceutical industry and from the point of view of the medical specialists. This disease, not talked about for many years, can also give rise to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

In order to take on these challenges in treating hepatitis C, the University Hospital of Navarra brought together experts from various areas. Albert Jovell, president of the Spanish Patients’ Forum, highlighted that hepatitis C is an illness that “can be detected when the patient is in an asymptomatic state, and thereby early diagnosis is as important as an evaluation of the prognosis. It has to be taken into account that a percentage of patients has the potential of the disease becoming serious”, he pointed out.

Antonio Fernández, Director for the Development of New Products at Janssen Laboratories, underlined that the lessons learnt in the fight against HIV have enabled the development of new pharmaceutical drugs. Their principal novelty —commented Dr Sangro — is that they directly and specifically attack the virus”. To date the treatment has been with generic antiviral medication, effective and capable of curing patients, but not as powerful as is desired”, he added.

Recent treatment and action by the Navarre Government Health Service

As Doctor Sangro explained, these two new medicines – Telaprevir and Boceprevir – were approved last year by the European Medicines Agency and its Spanish homologue and patients have been receiving them for over two months. This aspect has direct consequences for the Health Administration, which has to confront very costly treatment. In Navarre, stated Cristina Ibarrola, Director-General of the Navarre Government Health Service, 15 patients have been treated in these two months. At the same time, she expressed the willingness of the Navarre Government not to restrict their prescription for patients in need and indicated that in Navarre the recommendations of the specialists as how to prioritise them have been followed.

Also, doctor Manuel Romero-Gómez, Director of the Unit for the Medical-Surgical Management of Digestive Illnesses at the Universitay Hospital of Valme, in Seville, and doctor Jordi Bruix, Head of the Hepatic Oncology Team at the Hospital Clínic of Barcelona, pointed out the importance for medical specialists to have access not only to these new, more effective and complex treatments, but also “to greater health care resources which are required because the treatment is more complicated”.

“it is also fundamental”, they continued, “to boost efforts and maintain medical education in order to identify the illness”, which, as has been said already, does not necessarily show clear symptoms. Finally, doctor José Luis Calleja, of the Gastroenterology Service at the Puerta de Hierro University Hospital in Madrid, and doctor Jordi Solá, Chief of the Hepatology Section at the Hospital del Mar in Barcelona, indicated that they are working on even more powerful pharmaceutical drugs which, within a decade, will enable the cure of the immense majority of hepatitis C sufferers, according to the University Hospital of Navarra specialist.

Vaccine at the hospital

The University Hospital of Navarra has been working on a therapeutic vaccine which will complement the use of these pharmaceutical drugs. “Once the treatment terminates – explained doctor Sangro -, on occasions the organism’s defence system is not able to terminate the viral infection. We are currently undertaking clinical trials with autologous vaccines, i.e. those which use the patient’s own cells, and are ‘educated’ to attack the hepatitis C virus. Once this is done, they are reintroduced into the patient”.

Farmakologia, Medikuntza, Osasuna 

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