A DAILY pill can cure deadly hepatitis C in months and may wipe out the disease altogether, experts say.
By Lucy Johnson
The new drug, which will be available on the NHS, has been shown to eliminate the virus in up to 98 per cent of patients.
It is estimated to affect 216,000 victims in the UK, including 85,000 diagnosed cases, and can lead to liver cancer.
Specialists say the drug Daklinza, will also stem the huge rise in cases of serious liver disease and cancer caused by the condition.
They have soared by 450 per cent in the past 15 years, from 5,500 cases in 2000, to 24,600 last year.
It still needs to be tested on certain types of hepatitis C but has proved successful on those for which it has been prescribed.
The late Body Shop founder Dame Anita Roddick suffered from the disease after she was given a contaminated blood transfusion in 1971.
Charles Gore, Hepatitis C Trust chief executive, said: “We are delighted patients will have access to this new treatment.
This takes us one step closer to making the elimination of hepatitis C a realistic possibility by improving both cure rates and tolerability.”
Liver specialist Dr John Dillon, at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, said: “New treatment options that can cure this virus are really important.
"The launch of this treatment in the UK is another big step forward.
"Its arrival paves the way for the use of treatment regimens that are oral, much more tolerable for patients than older treatments, and offer the chance of a cure."
Unlike older therapies, which try to boost the body’s immune system, a new class of drugs, known as NS5A inhibitors, bind to a protein in the virus to stop it replicating.
One of these, Daklinza, is most effective in patients who have late stages of the disease, many of whom are on the transplant waiting list.
Current treatments are less effective and involve a long course of immune-boosting drugs with severe side effects including depression, anaemia and fatigue.
The new drug has few unwanted effects and is taken for three months.
Nearly all sufferers are then free of the disease and experts believe it could eradicate hepatitis C, within 15 years.
The launch of this treatment in the UK is another big step forward
Dr John Dillon
The virus is associated with tainted blood transfusions from Europe and the US before screening was introduced in 1991, plus non-sterile needles used by tattooists and intravenous drug users.
One in five liver transplants in the UK, 170 a year, is due to hepatitis C damage.
Many victims do not realise they have it as symptoms can be silent and surface only as the disease progresses.
In 2004 Anita Roddick announced she had hepatitis C.
She had lived with the virus for more than 30 years before discovering she was contaminated after a transfusion following the birth of her son Sam.
By this time she was suffering from severe liver damage.
The new drug will become available to patients on the NHS early next year.
Some severely ill patients have been given early access under a new scheme by NHS England.
Johanna Mercier, general manager of Bristol-Myers Squibb, which developed the drug, said: “We are committed to imp-roving the quality of life of patients living with hepatitis C and paving the way to cure this chronic and devastating condition.”