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Hepatitis C drug goes after patients’ RNA

Compound targets genetic material that virus uses for replicating

No matter what medications doctors throw at hepatitis C, it continues to defy treatment in some patients. But a new compound offers an approach quite apart from the rest: It assaults a kind of RNA that is implicated in allowing the virus to gain a foothold.

In most of a small group of patients who took the experimental drug, virus levels were knocked down, sometimes below the threshold of detection. The drug does this by targeting genetic material in the liver called microRNA-122. The hepatitis virus normally attaches to this RNA, gaining the stability it needs to propagate while hiding from immune system patrols.

The new drug, called miravirsen, binds to microRNA-122, sequesters it and indirectly thwarts viral replication, says study coauthor Harry Janssen, a hepatologist and physician at the University of Toronto. Janssen and colleagues report the findings March 27 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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