HC virus
Hepatitis C spreads via blood transfusions and reusing of needles and other hospital instruments like vials.Creative Commons

A promising breakthrough in the treatment of Hepatitis C offers new hope of a cure for a disease that until now required prolonged therapy with unpleasant side-effects and a low success rate.

Scientists from Germany and the US have designed a painless new oral therapy for liver cirrhosis associated with Hepatitis C, with a success rates of over 95% in clinical trials.

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by a virus that spreads through contaminated blood and body fluids.

The disease primarily affects the liver and causes scarring of the liver or cirrhosis, and it can take decades for symptoms to appear.

Over 200,000 people in the UK have tested positive for the virus, but only 3% of patients try the existing therapy.

The present year-long treatment relies on interferon therapy administered by injections, which is not often well tolerated by most patients, and has success rates of less than 50%.

It is also not safe for many people, and produces high toxicity in the body with side-effects such as depression, fatigue, and general malaise.

The new oral drug does not use interferons to target the infected cells, but works by blocking the replication of the virus.

"It is fantastic. I am so excited for the patients. There is finally hope for their future," Dr Fred Poordad, lead researcher told the BBC.

"Eventually the virus is extinguished," he said.

The three-month-long therapy was effective in patients who had failed to respond to previous treatments.

Researchers from UT Medicine San Antonio and Texas Health Science Centre tested the drug on 380 patients in 78 different centres spread across Spain, Germany, England and the US in 2013.

The therapy consists of generic anti-retroviral compounds such as ABT-450/ritonavir, ribavirin, ombitasvir and dasabuvir. Clinical studies were carried out over a period of 12 and 24 weeks. The three-month trial had a success rate of 90%, while the longer one stood off even better at 96%.

The new ABT-450 drug is expected to be launched in the UK by the end of 2014, after further studies to establish its effectiveness on advanced stages of cirrhosis and in preventing transmission.

Clinical trials were done on only one of the three genotypes of Hepatitis C virus, but studies on the other strains will follow shortly, according to Charles Gore, chief executive at the Hepatitis C Trust.

"This is a turning point. I think it is incredibly exciting. We suddenly have the opportunity to eliminate the virus in the UK - even without a vaccine," Gore said.