Healthcare guidance body NICE has today published final guidance recommending sofosbuvir (Sovaldi, Gilead Sciences) and simeprevir (Olysio, Janssen) as treatment options for some people with chronic hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is a virus that infects the liver. It is spread by contact with infected blood, for instance by using contaminated needles for injecting drugs or sharing razors or toothbrushes. The virus can cause inflammation of, and damage to, the liver, preventing it from working properly.
About a third of people infected with the hepatitis C virus will eventually develop liver cirrhosis, where normal liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue. A small number of people with chronic hepatitis C and cirrhosis also go on to develop liver cancer.
The aims of treatment are to clear the virus from the blood to prevent progression of liver disease, and to prevent the transmission of the hepatitis C virus. Sofosbuvir and simeprevir are oral antiviral drugs used to prevent hepatitis C viral replication in infected cells.
Sofosbuvir has a marketing authorisation in the UK for use in combination with other medicinal products for treating chronic hepatitis C in adults. The guidance on sofosbuvir recommends its use in combination with ribavirin, with or without peginterferon alfa, as an option for some people with genotypes 1- 6 chronic hepatitis C.
Simprevir has a marketing authorisation in the UK for use in combination with other medicinal products for treating adults with genotype 1 or 4 chronic hepatitis C. The guidance on simeprevir recommends its use, in combination with peginterferon alfa and ribavirin, as an option for treating both genotypes 1 and 4 chronic hepatitis C in adults.
More data on the use of simeprevir in combination with sofosbuvir to treat chronic hepatitis C in people who can't tolerate or aren't eligible for treatment with interferon is due to become available soon. Therefore recommendations on this treatment combination will now be developed in separate guidance.
Commenting on today's guidance Professor Carole Longson, Director of the NICE Centre for Health Technology Evaluation, said: "Poor diagnosis rates - estimates suggest around 50% of people with the condition in England remain undiagnosed - combined with a high number of new infections annually make hepatitis C a major public health challenge. But even when people are diagnosed, the long duration and potentially unpleasant side-effects of current interferon-based treatments can discourage people with the disease from completing the full course, or even from seeking treatment in the first place.
"New treatments, like sofosbuvir and simeprevir, can shorten the length of interferon-based therapy and in some situations don't need to be taken with interferon at all. Both drugs can also be given to people who have previously been treated but did not clear the virus, in people whose condition has relapsed, or in people who have become re-infected after treatment.
"Sofosbuvir and simeprevir could therefore be valuable treatment options for people with chronic hepatitis C. This is good news, not just for people with chronic hepatitis C, but also because having more effective treatments for the condition could reduce the spread of the virus."
Following a request from NHS England and consultation with stakeholders, the period during which NHS England has to comply with the recommendations for sofosbuvir is extended to 31 July 2015. The period during which NHS England has to comply with the recommendations for simeprevir has not been extended.