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By December 9, 2009

No, I didn't just wildly hit a bunch of letters on my keyboard. SPC3649 is the research name of a promising hepatitis C treatment that's still in development.

What's all the fuss about?

SPC3649 has significantly reduced the hepatitis C virus in the blood of chronically infected chimpanzees. Of course, anytime a new drug shows promise for treating hepatitis C, it's a big deal. But the reason that new drugs are needed is because the current therapy doesn't work well for some chronic infections. It's well-known that some hepatitis C viral genotypes, such as Type I, are harder to successfully treat than others. Because of this, people with hard-to-treat forms of hepatitis C are half as likely to even start treatment (Journal article).

So when an experimental drug, such as SPC3649, produces a prolonged virological response, researchers start to think it may become a solution for these hard-to-treat forms and can be a hope to those who don't even start treatment. It's possible that this drug could be a treatment in itself; though, if successful, it could also be used in combination with peginterferon and ribavirin.

Ah, but there's more!

Another aspect of SPC3649 that's exciting for hepatitis C treatment is its high barrier to resistance. This means that the hepatitis C virus, which is notorious for its many mutations, isn't able to easily resist the treatment.

How's this drug different from the current therapy?

This drug is developed using a special kind of chemistry called "locked nucleic acid" or LNA. It's a DNA-based drug that targets specific liver molecules involved in replicating the hepatitis C virus. By this, I mean that instead of targeting the virus directly, it targets "helper" molecules in the liver. Without these "helper" molecules, the hepatitis C virus can't replicate. With no replication, the infection can't progress.

Should you get excited?

SPC3649 is getting some interesting press coverage, but it's still a long way from being prescribed by doctors. It's still in phase 1 clinical trials and won't begin its phase 2 trials until sometime next year. So stay interested, but remember, it takes awhile for new drugs to work their way through development. Here's a quick review of clinical trials.

If you're interested in learning more about this drug, here's an abstract in the journal Science. Here are two press releases, one from Santaris Pharma (the company that developed the drug) and one from SFBR, a collaborating research foundation.

January 14, 2010 at 1:34 pm
(1) Mark says:

That’s an interesting study Charles, a novel approach that so far looks very promising.

I’m worried that the proposed ban on medical research on Chimpanzees (the Great Ape Protection Act of 2009) that is before Congress may seriously hamper Hepatitis C research projects such as this. How good are the alternatives? From what I’ve read about the alternatives, transgenic mouse, surrogate animal models and in vitro techniques, don’t yet match the Chimpanzee as a pre-clinical model for Hepatitis research.

Are HepC researchers and Patient Advocacy Groups concerned about the impact of this proposed ban?

January 27, 2010 at 12:15 am
(2) hepatitis says:

Hi Mark, thanks for your comment. I’ll have to look into this more to see if any consensus exists among researchers an advocacy groups. I would imagine that researchers, especially, would be wary of any ban that hampered research. A year or so ago, I remember posting on a new liver model (maybe from MIT?) that was supposed to be a promising non-animal model for researchers. I see if I can find and repost the link.

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