Business AwardA drug to treat chronic hepatitis C infection has received Drug Discovery of the Year 2016, a prestigious award from the British Pharmacological Society. Sofosbuvir dramatically improves the chances of a cure of this serious and potentially fatal disease compared with historic treatments.

The award is made to the team of researchers at pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, which is responsible for the development of sofosbuvir, in recognition of the drug making a significant impact on an unmet medical need and offering a significant improvement compared with existing treatment options.

Hepatitis C is caused by a virus that infects liver cells causing long-term damage, resulting in liver failure or cancer in many patients. It is estimated that 150 million people around the world suffer from chronic hepatitis C infection. If liver failure develops, patients urgently need a liver transplant or they will die. Historically, only one third of patients clear the virus if they receive medical treatment or a transplant.

Sofosbuvir, in combination with other drugs, means that patients now stand a greater than 90% chance of recovery. It provides an interferon-free treatment meaning it is more easily tolerated without the side-effects caused by interferon. In patients who do not have cirrhosis of the liver and who have not had previous treatment, taking just one sofosbuvir tablet a day plus another agent, such as ledipasvir, treatment can be as short as eight weeks, a considerably shorter time than with other current treatments. Sofosbuvir was approved for use in the USA in 2013 and in Europe in 2014.

Dr Ann Hayes, Chair of the British Pharmacological Society’s judging panel said, “Sofosbuvir is a game-changer for people with hepatitis C. In 1990, only 6% of people survived. Now more than 90% have a chance of clearing the virus. This is an excellent example of how scientists working in the pharmaceutical industry can develop a new treatment for a devastating disease, in just two decades.”

“For people with hepatitis C, sofosbuvir is highly effective and easy to take, so it is likely to form the backbone of hepatitis C treatment for many years. In combination with a variety of other drugs, it could cure almost everyone which, after years of waiting, makes the prospect of eliminating hepatits C feasible,” said Charles Gore, Chief Executive of the Hepatitis C Trust.

The Drug Discovery of the Year award is being presented by Professor Humphrey Rang, President of the British Pharmacological Society, to Cham Herath, medical director at Gilead Sciences Ltd, UK and Ireland at the Society’s annual conference, Pharmacology 2015.

Professor Rang said: “The British Pharmacological Society wants to celebrate the importance of pharmacology in drug discovery and the benefit of this research to society. We are proud to make this award to the team at Gilead Sciences for their drug sofosbuvir that transforms the treatment – and lives – of so many people with hepatitis C.”