WASHINGTON – Federal health officials have approved a highly anticipated hepatitis C drug from Gilead Sciences Inc. that is expected to offer a faster, more palatable cure to millions of people infected with the liver-destroying virus.
The Food and Drug Administration said Friday it approved the pill Sovaldi in combination with older drugs to treat the main forms of hepatitis C that affect U.S. patients.
Current treatments for hepatitis C can take up to a year of therapy and involve weekly injections of a drug that causes flu-like side effects. That approach only cures about three out of four patients. Sovaldi is a daily pill that in clinical trials cured roughly 90 percent of patients in just 12 weeks, when combined with the older drug cocktail.
Between 3 million and 4 million Americans are estimated to carry the blood-borne virus, though most do not even know they are infected. Others have tested positive but are waiting for more effective treatments to become available. Hepatitis C symptoms may not appear until two or three decades after infection, though the virus can cause liver failure, cirrhosis and cancer if left untreated.