“Revolutionary” hepatitis C therapy at The Ottawa Hospital cures more patients

April 28, 2015

Not long ago, BillyBob McPherson believed he had come to the end of his journey. That assessment would have been fair, were it not for recent advances in the treatment of hepatitis C.

Today, McPherson, a former carnival worker on a disability pension, is disease free, thanks to new drugs developed to cure this devastating infectious disease that affects the liver.

A clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital led by Dr. Curtis Cooper was key to curing McPherson and opening the door to safer and more effective treatment for thousands of others. This particular trial tested a combination of four new anti-viral medications, called the Holkira Pak. The hospital has been involved in developing several other antiviral regimens for hepatitis C as well.

Dr. Cooper, an infectious disease specialist at the hospital and the University of Ottawa, and Director of the Regional Viral Hepatitis Program, said the impact of these new drugs on patients is nothing short of “revolutionary.”

Until recently, hepatitis C treatment was primarily based on a protein called interferon, but side effects were so severe that only a minority of patients could tolerate it.

“Now we have something to offer almost everybody living with hepatitis C that is safe, well-tolerated, of short duration, and highly curative,” explained Dr. Cooper. The rate of cure has jumped from below 50 percent to over 90 percent. While the new treatments are expensive, Dr. Cooper said he believes they will ultimately save the health-care system money by preventing hepatitis C complications such as liver failure and liver cancer.

“Over half of the people with hepatitis C do not know they have it,” he said. “Over the next 10 to 20 years, many of these people will begin to develop liver complications. We are looking at a tidal wave of sick patients.”

About 300,000 Canadians are living with hepatitis C, and many have high levels of poverty, substance abuse and mental health issues. In addition to researching many aspects of this disease, Dr. Cooper and his team are working with psychologists, community partners and telemedicine programs to better engage marginalized populations and develop individualized, patient-focused management plans.

Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute is the research arm of The Ottawa Hospital and is an affiliated institute of the University of Ottawa, closely associated with its faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences. The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute includes more than 1,700 scientists, clinical investigators, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staff conducting research to improve the understanding, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disease. Support our research. Give to the Tender Loving Research campaign.

For further information, please contact

Jennifer Ganton
Director, Communications and Public Relations
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Office: 613-737-8899 x73325
Cell: 613-614-5253