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Second New Interferon Drug Combo Cures Hepatitis C


"When I started therapy I felt really, really tired --- I just wanted to sleep all the time," Marichal tells WebMD. "It was hard to do simple things like taking groceries from the car without having to lie down for an hour. And it got progressively worse, although after about six months I got used to it. Also I started getting hives, and that was really bad. I had to take Benadryl, and that made me even sleepier. I also got really depressed. I felt like crying all the time, and I couldn't understand what was happening to me. So they put me on Paxil for that, but that had side effects, too."

Depression, fatigue, and flulike symptoms are common among people who take interferon therapy. And ribavirin causes birth defects, so both women and men must avoid conceiving a child while taking the drug. But even though she suffered from the treatment, Marichal is very happy.

"I would do it again -- being cured is the end result," she says.

Most hepatitis C patients in the U.S. are infected with a strain of hepatitis C called genotype 1 -- the hardest of all hepatitis C strains to cure. In the new Pegasys/ribavirin study, 46% of people infected with genotype 1 became hepatitis C negative and stayed that way. In the earlier PEG-Intron/ribavirin study, this occurred in 48% of genotype 1 patients.

The new study compared 453 patients taking Pegasys/ribavirin with 224 patients taking Pegasys alone (plus a fake injection to simulate combination therapy), and with 444 patients getting standard interferon/ribavirin treatment. Any patient not responding within 12 weeks was offered the chance to switch treatment. Among standard-treatment patients, 45% had a sustained response, while only 30% had sustained responses to Pegasys alone. The response, though, was 56% among patients on the new combination therapy.

One important study finding was that a majority of the patients who became hepatitis C negative did so early in the treatment. This gives doctors an early chance to see whether the drug combination is working -- and to switch treatments if it is not.

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