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Low-cost hepatitis drug soon

The new drug is developed by Dr Sunil Shaunak, professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College based at Hammersmith hospital, reports Vijay Dutt.

india Updated: Jan 03, 2007 02:27 IST
Vijay Dutt

Treatment for hepatitis C is likely to get cheaper in the near future, with clinical trials for a new drug — called PEGylated-interferon alpha molecule — beginning in India in 2007. The new affordable drug has been developed by Dr Sunil Shaunak, professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College based at Hammersmith hospital, with scientists from Imperial College and the London School of Pharmacy.

Calling their efforts “ethical pharmaceuticals, a revolutionary new model,” Shaunk said he and his colleagues have developed a cost-effective technology that allows them open up the interferon protein, drop in a sugar molecule called PEG and close the protein. The PEGylated-interferon retains its shape and cures hepatitis C infection in many of the 170 million people affected with the disease worldwide. The new method of pegylation does not infringe existing patents because it tweaks the molecular structure of an existing drug no longer under a 20-year patent to turn it into a new medicine that can be sold much cheaper.

The efforts of Shaunak and his colleague Steve Brocchini from the London School of Pharmacy will reduce the cost of treating hepatitis C to a fraction of the current cost. It will help millions in poor countries get a cure for hepatitis C, which is a leading cause of chronic liver disease and cancer.

Hyderabad-based Shantha Biotech will manufacture the drug in India. “I have been greatly inspired by Shantha Biotech founder Varaprasad Reddy, whom I met about four years ago. The company has a record of manufacturing affordable health products. If clinical trials co-sponsored by the Indian government are successful, the new drug can be supplied the world over at an affordable price,” says Shaunak.

The new molecule, a report in the journal Nature said, appeared to be as effective as the existing drug used to treat Hepatitis C. “The aim of this work is to make affordable cures for infectious diseases for the poor people by doing most of the work in universities and hospitals using funds from charitable institutions and hospitals,” Shaunak told HT.