By Toni Clarke
WASHINGTON, Oct 25 (Reuters) - A federal advisory panel recommended on Friday that U.S. health regulators approve Gilead Sciences Inc's experimental hepatitis C drug sofosbuvir, paving the way for a treatment that is more effective and shorter in duration than current therapies.
The panel voted 15 to 0 in favor of approval of the drug in patients with two variants of the liver-damaging disease - genotype 2 and genotype 3 - in combination with an existing treatment, ribavirin.
If approved, it will be the first all-oral treatment for genotypes 2 and 3, obviating the need for the injectible drug interferon, which can cause debilitating side effects. Panelists called the vote "historic" and a "game-changer."
"Our patients have been waiting for this for a long time," said Dr. Curt Hagedorn, chief of medicine service at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare Service.
The panel also voted unanimously to approve the drug in patients with genotype 1 and genotype 4 variants in combination with ribavirin and interferon in patients who have not received prior therapy.
Genotype 1 accounts for roughly 70 percent of hepatitis C cases. The FDA is not bound to follow the advice of its panels but typically does so.
Bristol-Myers Squibb Co and Abbvie Inc have advanced all-oral clinical trial programs in late-stage development, using a variety of so-called direct acting antivirals, which directly interfere with the virus's ability to replicate. But Gilead is widely seen to be in the lead.
Chronic hepatitis C affects at least 3 million people in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Analysts on average expect Gilead's drug to generate sales of $1.73 billion in 2014, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Current standard treatments for genotype 1 often include a protease inhibitor. These are oral drugs that include Merck & Co Inc's Victrelis and Vertex Inc's Incivek.
Gilead acquired sofosbuvir, known as a nucleotide analogue inhibitor, with its $11 billion purchase of Pharmasset Inc in 2012.
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