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FDA reviewing hepatitis C drugs

WASHINGTON — Doctors may soon have two new drug options for patients who have hepatitis C, just as the liver-
destroying virus becomes a major public health concern for millions of baby boomers.

The Food and Drug Administration holds a public meeting this week to review experimental medications from Johnson & Johnson and Gilead Sciences. The new drugs, if approved, could offer a quicker, more effective approach to eliminating hepatitis C, a blood-borne disease blamed for 15,000 deaths in the United States this year.

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In a review posted online Tuesday, the FDA reported that J&J’s simeprevir drug has a slightly higher cure rate than currently available treatments, though it also caused rashes and sunburn in some patients.

On Thursday the FDA will ask a panel of outside experts whether the drug should carry warnings about rashes and sunburn.

On Friday, the same panel will review a drug from Gilead Sciences Inc. that some analysts say will become the first choice for treating the disease. The pill, known as sofosbuvir, has been shown to cure up to 90 percent of patients after 12 weeks of therapy, according to one company study.

Two drugs approved in 2011 kicked off a new effort to treat the disease.

Research shows that adding the two new drugs — Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ Incivek and Merck & Co.’s Victrelis — to the older drug cocktail can boost cure rates to between 65 and 75 percent.

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