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New Drugs Show Promise in Hepatitis C Fight

Mistletoe, Green Tomatoes, Novel Antiviral Drug May Work When Standard Treatments Don't

Novel Drug Interferes With Viral Life Cycle continued...

"Unlike current therapies, NM283 actually interferes with a specific step in the virus' life cycle, much like the drugs used to treat HIV or hepatitis B," he says. "That's dramatically different from available treatments, which work by boosting the immune system."

Also, there were no major side effects -- just some transient gastrointestinal ailments such as nausea or vomiting that subsided after two days, Godofsky says. In contrast, interferon can cause flu-like symptoms, fatigue, depression, muscle aches, and hair loss.

NM283 is made by Idenix Pharmaceuticals of Cambridge, Mass., which funded the study.

The next step, he says, is to test it in larger numbers of people, and then in combination with interferon. "Lab data shows that NM283 and interferon work better [together] than either by itself," Godofsky explains.

Anna Suk-Fong Lok, MD, professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Health Systems in Ann Arbor and a board director for the American Liver Foundation, says the drug looks promising.

Nevertheless, she tells WebMD, "Its true effectiveness can't be gauged until we have longer, larger studies. You have to give the drug for enough time to see if there is a sustained viral response, if the virus comes back, when you stop it."

Mistletoe-Green Tomato Combo Wipes Out Virus

In the other study, "unconventional therapy" with an extract of mistletoe and green tomatoes wiped out the virus in nearly half of patients for whom standard interferon therapy had failed, Matthes tells WebMD.

"We used a whole extract of mistletoe, which stimulates the immune system" to fight off the virus, he says. "And green tomatoes contain a key enzyme called caspase-8 that stimulates cell suicide."

In the study, 85 patients were given the new treatment. At one year, 18% were cured; by two years, the cure rate had reached 44%, Matthes reports.

"It's not quite as high a response rate as you see with interferon and ribavirin," he says. "But for the patients who can't tolerate that treatment and who currently have no alternative, we now have an option."

Godofsky says he sees a day when hepatitis C patients will be treated with a combination of therapies, much like people with HIV/AIDS. "We need combinations of different drugs that target different aspects of the disease. But drug development is a timely process."

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