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New Hepatitis C Treatment Looks Promising

A form of interferon -- the gold standard for treating hepatitis C infection -- may offer hope for the nearly three million U.S. patients suffering from the chronic, potentially liver-destroying disease.
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Dec. 6, 2000 -- A newly-developed form of interferon -- the gold standard for treating hepatitis C infection -- may offer hope for the nearly three million U.S. patients suffering from the chronic, potentially liver-destroying disease.

 

Researchers have found that by attaching a specialized molecule to the basic form of interferon, they can create a longer-lasting drug that patients need less of, less often. And peginterferon, as it's called, produces equally good, or even better, results.

 

The new findings and an accompanying editorial appear in the Dec. 7, 2000 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

 

This is a way of manipulating a drug to make a current treatment better, editorialist Daniel F. Schafer, MD, tells WebMD. "Although it may seem like a small thing in hepatitis C, it will make things easier and better for patients. The side effects are similar to existing therapies, and they only have to take a shot once a week instead of three times per week or even every day. And," he adds, "it works better." Schafer is associate professor of medicine and an expert in adult liver disease and transplant at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, in Omaha.

 

In the first of the two studies, Stefan Zeuzem, MD, and colleagues randomly assigned nearly 550 chronic hepatitis C patients to weekly injections of the new drug or to standard interferon injections three times a week, for 48 weeks. The therapy was deemed successful if tests could not detect hepatitis C virus in a patient's blood after 72 weeks.

 

About 10% of patients in both groups withdrew from the study due to similar side effects -- mainly fatigue, depression, and blood disorders. But overall, compared to those given the standard interferon treatment, significantly more patients who'd taken peginterferon had undetectable amounts of the virus in their blood.

 

In the second study, E. Jenny Heathcote, MD, and colleagues randomly assigned nearly 300 hepatitis C patients who had already developed liver disease called cirrhosis to either standard treatment, or to low or high doses of peginterferon, again for 48 weeks.

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