Source Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
Infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major medical problem with over 170 million people infected worldwide. Substantial morbidity and mortality are associated with hepatic manifestations (cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma), which develop with increasing frequency in people infected with HCV for more than 20 years. Less well known is the burden of HCV disease associated with extrahepatic manifestations (diabetes, B-cell proliferative disorders, depression, cognitive disorders, arthritis and Sjögren's syndrome). For patients infected with genotype 1 HCV, treatment with polyethylene glycol decorated interferon (peginterferon) α and ribavirin (PR) is associated with a low (40-50%) success rate, substantial treatment-limiting side effects and a long (48-week) duration of treatment. In the past 15 years, major scientific advances have enabled the development of new classes of HCV therapy, the direct-acting antiviral agents, also known as specifically targeted antiviral therapy for hepatitis C (STAT-C).
In combination with PR, the HCV NS3-4A protease inhibitor telaprevir has recently been approved for treatment of genotype 1 chronic HCV in the United States, Canada, European Union and Japan. Compared with PR, telaprevir combination therapy offers significantly improved viral cure rates and the possibility of shortened treatment duration for diverse patient populations. Developers of innovative drugs have to blaze a new path with few validated sign posts to guide the way. Indeed, telaprevir's development was once put on hold because of its performance in a standard IC(50) assay. Data from new hypotheses and novel experiments were required to justify further investment and reduce risk that the drug might fail in the clinic. In addition, the poor drug-like properties of telaprevir were a formidable hurdle, which the manufacturing and formulation teams had to overcome to make the drug.
Finally, novel clinical trial designs were developed to improve efficacy and shorten treatment in parallel instead of sequentially. Lessons learned from the development of telaprevir suggest that makers of innovative medicines cannot rely solely on traditional drug discovery metrics, but must develop innovative, scientifically guided pathways for success.