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Gilead’s Sovaldi wins Drug Discovery of the Year Award

Published on 16/12/15 at 08:00pm
Sovaldi bottle
The judges say Sovaldi has been a 'game-changer' for hepatitis C

Gilead Science’s hepatitis C treatment Sovaldi has been awarded the British Pharmacological Society’s prestigious Drug Discovery of the Year 2016.

The Society says Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) dramatically improves the chances of a cure to the disease compared to historic treatments. 

The award is made to the team of Gilead researchers responsible for the development of Sovaldi, in recognition of the drug making a significant impact on an unmet medical need and offering a significant improvement over 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. 

The Society said that Sovaldi, in combination with other drugs, means that patients now stand a greater than 90% chance of recovery, and praised the fact that it frees patients from the side effects associated with interferon treatment. 

In patients who do not have cirrhosis of the liver and who have not had previous treatment, taking just one Sovaldi tablet a day plus another agent, such as ledipasvir (another Gilead drug), treatment can be as short as eight weeks – a considerably shorter time than with other current treatments. Sovaldi 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, says: “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.” 

Charles Gore, chief executive of the Hepatitis C Trust, comments: “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.” 

Professor Humphrey Rang, president of the British Pharmacological Society, says: “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.” 

The Drug Discovery of the Year award recognises the winner’s impact on unmet medical need and first in class mechanism of action. To qualify, a drug must have received regulatory approval within the last three years. Another criteria is that pharmacology must have played an important role in the discovery/development process. 

Previous winners include:

  • Drug Discovery of the Year 2013: the Genentech team who developed Erivedge (vismodegib) for basal cell carcinoma
  • Drug Discovery of the Year 2014: the GlaxoSmithKline team responsible for Mekinist (trametinib) for metastatic melanoma
  • Drug Discovery of the Year 2015: the Roche team who developed Gazyva (obinutuzumab) for lymphoma

Joel Levy 

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