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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.


    As in the first study, these researchers were hoping to find undetectable amounts of virus in the blood. In this study, they also looked at several patients' liver cells. All treatments were equally well tolerated.

    Again, more patients taking peginterferon than taking standard interferon had reduced virus counts in their blood. What's more, their liver cells also looked significantly better.

    Schafer and co-editorialist Michael F. Sorrell, MD, call the results of both studies "encouraging," noting that even patients with no decrease in the amount of virus in the blood may still have less liver damage with either interferon or peginterferon.

    Another significant benefit of these drugs, Schafer tells WebMD, is that "even if you don't respond, there's evidence that it decreases your chances of getting a certain type of liver cancer -- hepatocellular carcinoma -- that is believed to be a long-term effect of hepatitis C infection."

    They caution, however, that peginterferon may not benefit all patients. Even this improved formulation may be insufficient against the highly-interferon resistant genotype 1 hepatitis C strain carried by about 75% of infected patients in the U.S. In both studies, the response rate was much lower for those with this resistant strain than it was for those with other strains of the virus.

    Also, Schafer tells WebMD, more research is needed to determine whether black patients, who were underrepresented in these studies despite comprising a large proportion of those with hepatitis C, will have a similar rate of response as other racial and ethnic groups.

    Peginterferon is not yet on the market, but FDA approval is pending.

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