WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal health officials have approved a highly anticipated hepatitis C drug from Gilead Sciences Inc. that is expected to offer a faster, more palatable cure to millions of people infected with the liver-destroying virus.
The Food and Drug Administration said Friday it approved the pill Sovaldi in combination with older drugs to treat the main forms of hepatitis C that affect U.S. patients.
Current treatments for hepatitis C can take up to a year of therapy and involve weekly injections of a drug that causes flu-like side effects. That approach only cures about three out of four patients. Sovaldi is a daily pill that in clinical trials cured roughly 90 percent of patients in just 12 weeks, when combined with the older drug cocktail.
Between three million and four million Americans are estimated to carry the blood-borne virus, though most do not even know they are infected. Others have tested positive but are waiting for more effective treatments to become available. Hepatitis C symptoms may not appear until two or three decades after infection, though the virus can cause liver failure, cirrhosis and cancer if left untreated.