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September 22, 2009

HCV: Wait for Something New or Treat Now?

"Some people coinfected with both HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) are holding out for new treatments that will improve their chances of permanently clearing HCV. David Evans talks with HCV/HIV coinfection activist Tracy Swan to find out whether the current crop of experimental agents will be worth the wait."

Read more in POZ, September 22, 2009.

Comment, by JSJ: It should be more widely known that hepatitis C treatment research was delayed, possibly for years, by a fight over intellectual property. Several companies stopped their search for a hepatitis C protease inhibitor after disputes with Chiron, which had basically patented the virus so that other companies could not make a competing blood test for it. Later, a compromise allowed the treatment research to resume, resulting in the hepatitis C protease inhibitors now in clinical trials.

Personal note: Years ago we saw an X-ray crystallography setup during a tour of Gilead Sciences; the project's purpose was to determine the chemical structure of the hepatitis C protease, in order to design an inhibitor. Apparently that research was stopped due to the legal disputes, and Gilead's hepatitis C research was restarted later.

For more information:

* 2004, AP story:

* 2006, Council on Foreign Relations: "Reforming U.S. Patent Policy: Getting the Incentives Right" (pages 19-20): (free PDF download on that page)

* The most important media work was by reporter Mike McGraw in the Kansas City Star, February 15, 2004. His story seems to have been removed from the newspaper's Web site. The Google and Bing search engines failed to find an accessible copy anywhere; but Yahoo search found one at It might be the only full text online; and this article has key information not in the other reports. Could the consistent misspelling of the company name have helped protect it? If you have any interest in the history of hepatitis C treatments and patents, save a copy immediately.

A problem in researching this history is that many of the companies affected have reached a settlement with Chiron (sometimes after being sued), and will not talk.

Importance today: In hepatitis C most of the damage has already been done. But the history is critical because major decisions continue to be made on patent reform, pharmaceutical patents, and the patenting of pathogens (such as the hepatitis C virus) and human genes.

If you have information, you can send it to John S. James,, or to AIDS Treatment News, 1233 Locust St., 5th floor, Philadelphia PA 19107.