New drug offers hope in treating hepatitis C

A new class of medicine that could ultimately have applications in the treatment of cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and psychiatric conditions has been tested successfully in monkeys. The treatment for hepatitis C is due to begin human testing later this year and could be available to patients in five to six years.

The new drug targets a recently discovered mechanism that cells use to fine-tune the levels at which genes are expressed. Scientists have already shown that the mechanism is involved in numerous conditions including leukaemia, lymphoma, some types of heart disease and diabetes so the success of the new treatment so far will offer hope that a similar approach may be successful for other conditions.

The new drug, which has been developed by a Danish company called Santaris Pharma, works by sticking to molecules in cells called microRNAs which regulate genes.

Keith McCullagh, president and CEO of Santaris Pharma, said: "MicroRNAs are very exciting as targets for drug treatment in disease because they are known often to be perturbed up or down in disease."

"This subject area has been exploding in the last few years," said Dr Mike Gait, an expert in microRNA at the Medical Research Council's laboratory of molecular biology in Cambridge.
Gait, who was not involved in the research and has no financial interest in any company working in the area, said one question mark was whether, by affecting numerous genes, the drugs would have unwanted side-effects. "So far from what I have seen it looks quite promising," Gait said. "We won't actually know until it gets towards the clinical trial stage."

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