Bucks County company targets Hepatitis B with new drugs

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Bucks Co. company targets Hepatitis B with new drugs: Ali Gorman reports during Action News at 5 p.m. on August 9, 2017. (WPVI)

The Bucks County scientists who created a cure for Hepatitis C are aiming at a new target - Hepatitis B.

And patients with the disease are watching anxiously.

Joan Block says she's sitting on a time bomb called hepatitis B.

"I'm not sure if I was infected as an infant, or as a nurse," says Block.

She got the diagnosis in 1989 through a blood test for a new job.

There were no treatments, and very little knowledge about the virus, which damages the liver.

"They only people I knew with Hepatitis B were dying of liver cancer. I thought I was going to be dead in 6 months.))

And there was discrimination - a spillover from fears of HIV-AIDS in those days.

"I couldn't work while they figured out whether I was allowed to work with an infectious disease," Block adds.

Fighting back, Block and her husband helped create the Hepatitis B foundation in Doylestown.

Hepatitis B is spread most commonly through sexual or blood to blood contact, and from mother to child at birth.

And chronic hep B can progress quickly.

"I get checked every 6 months with ultrasound and blood tests," she notes.

"I'm not sure if I'm going to get good news or bad news. so you just live with this constant cloud over your head," Block adds.

"Unlike hepatitis C, hepatitis B can go from chronic infection directly to liver cancer," said Dr. Mike Sofia.

Dr. Sofia created Sovaldi (sofosbuvir), the pill that can cure Hepatitis C.

Now his company, Arbutus Biopharma of Warminster, is building on that knowledge to develop a cure for the B strain.

Although there are 8 drugs to control the virus, they don't wipe it out.

"That virus continues to do damage to their liver," he notes.

Dr. Sofia says a multi-drug cocktail - like those used for HIV - is a must.

"You wanna hit the virus as hard as possible, by different avenues," he says, and adds,"Because they're hitting by different mechanisms, they also prevent the formation of resistant viruses."

Arbutus has several drugs now in Phase 1 and 2 tests, and is developing others.

Those in clinical trials have shown they effectively drop virus levels.

Dr. Sofia says, "We're keeping our fingers crossed" the new drugs will be on the market in the next 5 years.

While Block is healthy now, her risk of liver cancer goes up each year.

So she's anxious for help.

"Anyone living with a chronic disease always wants a cure - we all want to be free of the risk, and medication." she observes.

About 2 million Americans have chronic hepatitis B, including 1 in 12 Asian-Americans.

It affects more people of Asian descent, because it's more common in those countries.

But Block says EVERYONE should get tested, and vaccinated.

For more on the Hepatitis B Foundation,click here .

For more on Arbutus Biopharma, click here.
Related Topics:
healthhealthcheckhepatitisWarminster Township
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