Pretty much everything we know about viral hepatitis treatment depends on research—and not just any research, but clinical trials involving people with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). Today’s men, women and children living with viral hepatitis have yesterday’s clinical trial volunteers to thank for the hepatitis B vaccine and the medications available for both HBV and HCV. Similarly, our ability to respond to viral hepatitis in the future—whether through effective vaccines (especially against hepatitis C) or novel therapeutic and curative drugs for those people just starting therapy or in desperate need of new agents—will depend greatly on people to continue enrolling in clinical trials today.
Of course, deciding to participate in a clinical trial isn’t only about altruism—putting the needs of others before our own. Though people living with viral hepatitis today have treatment options to choose from and they do not need clinical trials to access lifesaving therapy, this is not true for everybody. With hepatitis C, a growing number of people are at the end of their treatment rope, because they cannot use pegylated interferon and ribavirin or they have not been cured using these drugs. There are also individuals who cannot tolerate the available treatments and who need access to alternative options or experimental drugs to alleviate side effects. And with hepatitis C, there is always interest in trying interferon-free regimens; people living with hepatitis B and hepatitis C are waiting for new compounds that are easier to take and that work differently than any of today’s approved agents (which is especially important for hepatitis B, since all approved oral drugs target the same step in the virus life cycle).
Should you join a clinical trial? Like all treatment decisions, this question can only be answered through discussions with your health care provider and others you trust. To help you better understand clinical trials and to have these discussions, we offer the following detailed lesson on the subject: