It's odd to think that anyone would look upon a person infected with the AIDS virus with even a tinge of envy, but some of the estimated 170 million people worldwide infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) may do just that. Whereas AIDS researchers have developed powerful drugs, including protease inhibitors, that target specific HIV proteins, physicians typically treat HCV with less effective, general antiviral medications, such as interferon and ribavirin.
At least three drug companies have now identified compounds that inactivate a key HCV protease in cell cultures and animals. As reported in an upcoming Nature, one of the protease inhibitors has even slowed HCV replication in people, without any obvious side effects. That human trial was only a few days long, however, and questions remain about whether the particular protease inhibitor tested is safe for long-term use.