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August 03, 2015

Doylestown researchers close in on hepatitis B treatment

Human testing on four experimental treatments expected to begin next year

Just two years after the Food and Drug Administration approved a drug that cures hepatitis C, a Bucks County research company has said that it is close to beginning human testing for a treatment for hepatitis B, the Philadelphia Business Journal reported.

Arbutus BioPharma Corp., a company that formed from the merger of OnCore BioPharma in Doylestown and Tekmira Pharmaceuticals in Vancouver, Canada, said that it hopes to begin human trials on four experimental hepatitis B treatments within the first half of 2016.

Hepatitis B is a liver virus that affects 12 million people in the U.S. and 400 million people worldwide. It differs from hepatitis C in that it is easier to transmit from mother to child during pregnancy, meaning that many people are infected as infants, the New Yorker said.

On board is Chief Scientific Officer Michael Sofia, who helped invent the cure for hepatitis C at the biotech firm Pharmasett in Princeton, New Jersey. Gilead Sciences paid $11 billion to acquire Pharmasett and made more than $10 billion in sales of the hepatitis C drug, Solvaldi, in 2014 alone.

Sofia told the Business Journal in March, “It’s very rare that people in this business get involved in a significant way with a drug that you know is going to have such a big impact – curing a disease. Many drugs treat a disease, but when you cure a disease, that’s something else.”

And curing two diseases? That’s something else again.