Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. Approximately 75% to 85% of people who become infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) develop chronic infection, as their body is unable to get rid of the virus. Worldwide, about 185 million people are estimated to have chronic hepatitis C. Left untreated, it can cause severe liver disease or liver cancer. In some cases, a liver transplant may be needed.
More than 3 million people in the United States are estimated to have chronic hepatitis C virus infection. Most people don’t know they are infected because they don’t look or feel sick. Image credit: xrender/Thinkstock.
Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection. Several treatments are available that can cure the disease. However, the drugs have side effects and can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
A team led by Dr. T. Jake Liang set out to find treatment options that are effective, safe, and affordable. Their strategy was to search for drugs already approved for other uses by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that might have anti-HCV activity. Finding alternative uses for approved compounds significantly reduces the time, money, and effort needed to develop a new drug.
The group screened a comprehensive library of approved drugs developed by NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) for the ability to block the hepatitis C virus from infecting cells and replicating. The research was conducted at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. The findings were published online on April 8, 2015, in Science Translational Medicine.
The researchers identified multiple allergy-relieving antihistamines that also have antiviral activity. Among them was an over-the-counter drug called CCZ, approved in the 1940s to treat allergy symptoms.
The researchers found that the drug inhibited HCV infection of human liver cells. The drug also inhibited HCV infection in mice implanted with human liver cells. Mice treated for 4 to 6 weeks had reduced levels of the virus, with no evidence of drug resistance.
“Although hepatitis C is curable, there is an unmet need for effective and affordable medication. CCZ is a promising candidate for part of a treatment regimen for this potentially life-threatening disease,” Liang says. However, he cautions, “People should not take CCZ to treat their hepatitis C until it has been demonstrated that CCZ can be used safely and effectively for that purpose.”
The researchers will now study how CCZ affects humans. People with hepatitis C who are interested in participating in clinical research on CCZ may call 1-866-444-2214 (TTY 1-866-411-1010) or visitwww.clinicaltrials.gov (Clinical Trial # NCT02118012) for information.