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Longer-Acting Drug Approved for Hepatitis C

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Last week, the FDA approved PEG-Intron, which is basically a longer-acting version of the interferon alpha Barb currently takes.

Part of what has her hopes up -- and the hopes of her fellow patients at the hepatitis clinic -- is that they've heard that the drug's manufacturer, Schering-Plough, is claiming that a combination of ribavirin and the new long-acting PEG-Intron is more likely to knock out the hepatitis C virus than the standard interferon regimen.

Studies have shown that only about 40% of patients taking the standard treatment will have a successful response, while the response rate seen in clinical trials of PEG-Intron and ribavirin range from 42-82%.

"The talk around the waiting room," Barb says, is that side effects may be about the same. But even if that's so, she says, the simplicity of once-a-week dosing should make life easier.

She may not get the chance to find out. The FDA has approved PEG-Intron only for use by itself, not in combination with other drugs -- and it hasn't even reached U.S. pharmacy shelves at this point.

In Munich, Josef says he hopes Barb gets a shot at the new drug. Josef is one of more than 1,500 patients who participated in a European trial of the long-acting drug in combination with ribavirin.

"When the study started, I had 2.5 million copies of the [hepatitis C] virus in my cells. That is hard to imagine, so much disease in one cell," Josef recalls.

Upon completing the trial, his viral load was down to 500 copies per cell, he says. "I think that is a response," Josef says.

Meanwhile, Barb continues to plan her life around the needle.

Today, it's late Sunday afternoon, and she's making preparations for a small group of friends and family who are coming over for a Super Bowl party. It's a good day to do it, she says, "because it's Sunday. I haven't had a shot since Friday. I guess you could say this is the very best day of the week for me. A good day for a party."

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