Old Drugs May Have New Use Against Hepatitis C

WEDNESDAY, June 9 (HealthDay News) -- The diabetes drug metformin and the anti-obesity drug AICAR may help treat hepatitis C infections, although much more study is needed, British researchers report.

Researchers at the University of Leeds found that metformin and AICAR can prevent the hepatitis C virus from replicating in the body.

"We're very excited about these findings. These drugs are already on the market, and whilst substantial clinical trials still need to take place before they can be used to treat hepatitis C infection, we think it could be an enormous step forward in the battle against the virus," Mark Harris, a professor in the Faculty of Biological Sciences, said in a news release from the university.

Metformin and AICAR stimulate an enzyme called AMP kinase (AMPK), which regulates energy within cells. The hepatitis C virus needs to suppress AMPK to replicate. By stimulating the enzyme, metformin and AICAR halt hepatitis C replication and enable cells to clear the infection, according to Harris and colleagues.

They've applied for a patent on the discovery and will soon begin a small-scale clinical trial with the University of Nottingham.

Hepatitis C virus, which damages the liver, affects about 3 percent of the world's population. Only about 40 percent of people with hepatitis C fully recover, while many patients develop cirrhosis and liver cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

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SOURCE: University of Leeds, June 7, 2010, news release.