Researchers are beginning to apply the knowledge they've learned in crafting drugs to interfere with HIV's ability to replicate in the body to new treatments for hepatitis C that also aim to slow viral replication, The New York Times reports. Current hepatitis treatments use a combination of ribavirin and the immune system protein alpha interferon to boost the immune system's ability to attack the virus, but no current treatments directly target the virus itself. However, pharmaceutical researchers are now using the information they've compiled about how HIV infects immune cells and reproduces in the body to develop new drugs that interfere with the hepatitis C enzymes protease and polymerase, which play key roles in HCV replication.
Several companies, including Idenix Pharmaceuticals, Japan Tobacco, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Rigel Pharmaceuticals, Isis Pharmaceuticals, and ViroPharma, have launched early clinical trials of HCV protease and polymerase inhibitors. German drugmaker Boehringer Ingelheim is also in early tests of its experimental HIV protease inhibitor, which was shown in a small subset of clinical trial data to also reduce HCV viral loads in people coinfected with both viruses. Drug company officials say that because clinical trials are still in early stages, it will take several years before any resulting HCV treatments are approved for public use.