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New drug could save millions of lives

Michael McGee | 12/16/2013, 8:28 a.m. | Updated on 4/25/2014, 7:01 p.m.
Grammy Award winner Natalie Cole, who was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2008, is one of thousands of African Americans living with the disease Pablo Martinez Monsivais

“Today’s approval represents a significant shift in the treatment paradigm for some patients with chronic hepatitis C,” said Edward Cox, M.D., director of the Office of Antimicrobial Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Sovaldi is the second drug approved by the FDA in the past two weeks to treat chronic HCV infection. On November 22, the FDA approved Olysio (simeprevir).

Hepatitis C is a viral disease that causes inflammation of the liver that can lead to diminished liver function or liver failure. Most people infected with HCV have no symptoms of the disease until liver damage becomes apparent, which may take several years. Some people with chronic HCV infection develop scarring and poor liver function (cirrhosis) over many years, which can lead to complications such as bleeding, jaundice (yellowish eyes or skin), fluid accumulation in the abdomen, infections or liver cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 3.2 million Americans are infected with HCV.

Sovaldi is a nucleotide analog inhibitor that blocks a specific protein needed by the hepatitis C virus to replicate. Sovaldi is to be used as a component of a combination antiviral treatment regimen for chronic HCV infection. There are several different types of HCV infection. Depending on the type of HCV infection a patient has, the treatment regimen could include Sovaldi and ribavirin or Sovaldi, ribavirin and peginterferon-alfa. Ribavirin and peginterferon-alfa are two drugs also used to treat HCV infection.

Sovaldi’s effectiveness was evaluated in six clinical trials consisting of 1,947 participants who had not previously received treatment for their disease (treatment-naive) or had not responded to previous treatment (treatment-experienced), including participants co-infected with HCV and HIV. The trials were designed to measure whether the hepatitis C virus was no longer detected in the blood at least 12 weeks after finishing treatment (sustained virologic response), suggesting a participant’s HCV infection has been cured.

Results from all clinical trials showed a treatment regimen containing Sovaldi was effective in treating multiple types of the hepatitis C virus. Additionally, Sovaldi demonstrated efficacy in participants who could not tolerate or take an interferon-based treatment regimen and in participants with liver cancer awaiting liver transplantation, addressing unmet medical needs in these populations.

The most common side effects reported in clinical study participants treated with Sovaldi and ribavirin were fatigue and headache. In participants treated with Sovaldi, ribavirin and peginterferon-alfa, the most common side effects reported were fatigue, headache, nausea, insomnia and anemia.

Sovaldi is the third drug with breakthrough therapy designation to receive FDA approval. The FDA can designate a drug as a breakthrough therapy at the request of the sponsor if preliminary clinical evidence indicates the drug may demonstrate a substantial improvement over available therapies for patients with serious or life-threatening diseases. Sovaldi was reviewed under the FDA’s priority review program, which provides for an expedited review of drugs that treat serious conditions and, if approved, would provide significant improvement in safety or effectiveness.