Hepatitis C was “the missing piece of the puzzle” that explained Quinton Moore’s weight loss and fatigue. A routine blood test to refill a prescription revealed abnormal liver function. Upon further examination, his doctor found that Moore was in the final stages of liver disease and would need a transplant if the disease progressed.
After weighing his options, Moore decided to participate in a clinical drug trial of Incivek (also known as Telaprevir), which offered a better chance than the standard treatment of curing the disease. The side effects were uncomfortable, but he persevered with the six-month drug trial. He was among the more than 2,200 people in the trial that led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May to approve Incivek for treatment of chronic hepatitis C.
Today, Moore is completely cured of the disease. “I feel wonderful,” said the 62-year-old Decatur resident. “I’m optimistic about living many more decades.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 3.2 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C infection, a viral disease that causes inflammation of the liver that can lead to diminished liver function or liver failure. Most people with hepatitis have no symptoms of the disease until liver damage occurs, which could take several years.
As the FDA’s statement noted, fewer than 50 percent of hepatitis C patients respond to the standard treatment. So when Moore’s Emory specialist, Dr. Kimberly Workowski, told him about the Incivek, he didn’t hesitate to join the trial group.
Moore recalled that the six-month treatment (which consisted of taking the standard treatment plus the trial drug) was a challenge. He developed rashes that prevented him from sleeping well. Some people in the trial group, he noted, experienced depression from the drug. “I didn’t feel better until after the trial, when I stopped taking the medication,” he stated.
In its analysis, the FDA reported that 79 percent of those taking Incivek had clean blood tests 24 weeks after stopping treatment.
Dr. Norman Gitlin, an Emory doctor who has been treating hepatitis C patients since 1985, explained that the disease is completely curable if caught early. He said it will not show up on routine physicals. “So, demand to be tested for hepatitis C,” he exclaimed. Approximately 8,000 to 10,000 people die every year from hepatitis C related liver disease.
Hepatitis C is transmitted from exposure to the blood of someone infected with the virus. Gitlin stated that IV drug use, from sharing contaminated needles, is the number one method of contracting the disease. Tattoo and body piercing—under unsanitary conditions—are also common sources. Also, those receiving blood transfusions before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began, may be at risk for hepatitis C.
Moore said he has never been a drug user and has none of the other risk factors. But Moore suspects that he contracted the disease in 2006 at a construction site accident. When a beam struck an electrician in his head, Moore rushed to put a towel under his head to stop the bleeding. Moore was not wearing gloves and believes cuts on his hand from doing construction work for many years provided the opening for the infection.
He encourages people in the advance stages of liver disease to talk with their doctor about trying Incivek. And most of all, he says it’s important to get tested. With the disease behind him, Moore looks forward to enjoying his retirement with his wife—who supported him throughout his clinical trial.