New Drug Cures Hard-to-Treat Hepatitis C
3-Drug Treatment Coming Soon, Expert Says
April 7, 2010 -- Patients who fail current hepatitis C virus (HCV)
treatments have few other options except trying the same drugs again, but an
experimental antiviral drug is poised to change that.
When the drug telaprevir was added to standard treatment with peginterferon
alfa and ribavirin, which are also antivirals, about half of patients who had
failed previous treatment with the two drugs cleared the virus.
The patients showed no evidence of HCV infection six months after completing
treatment, which is considered a cure.
Telaprevir is one of two highly anticipated drugs in the class known as
protease inhibitors being studied in patients with chronic hepatitis C
infection, a condition that affects about 3 million Americans and is the
leading cause of liver transplants in the U.S.
Phase III trials are under way for telaprevir, manufactured by Vertex
Pharmaceuticals, and boceprevir, manufactured by Schering-Plough.
Saint Louis University HCV specialist Bruce Bacon, MD, says when the two
drugs make it to the market, which may be as early as next year, they will
change the face of hepatitis C treatment.
Bacon did not participate in the new study, published in the April 8 issue
of the New England Journal of Medicine.
“Triple drug therapy is coming and it will mean cures for many more people,”
he tells WebMD. “My patients are very excited about it.”
Half of HCV Patients Cured
About 40% of previously untreated HCV patients are cured with the current
treatment regimen, which includes 48 weeks of peginterferon and ribavirin.
A second round of treatment is often recommended for patients who fail to
respond to initial treatment or who respond and then relapse. But this approach
is not very effective.
In their latest study, Duke University researcher John G. McHutchison, MD,
and colleagues achieved higher cure rates in previously treated patients than
has been reported before by adding telaprevir to the other two drugs.
The study participants were randomly assigned to one of four treatment
groups: 12 weeks of telaprevir and 24 weeks of interferon/ribavirin; 24 weeks
of telaprevir and 48 weeks of interferon/ribavirin; 24 weeks of telaprevir and
interferon without ribavirin; or 48 weeks of interferon/ribavirin without
The researchers report that:
- Just over half (52%) of telaprevir-treated patients were free of virus six
months after therapy ended, compared to just 14% of those who did not take
- Patients who had responded to initial treatment, but later relapsed, did
best on the three-drug regimen, with about three out of four achieving a cure
the second time around.
- Slightly less than 40% of previous non-responders who got the triple
therapy responded, compared to just 8% of those treated with standard therapy
- Responses were better with the three-drug regimen than with peginterferon
and telaprevir alone, suggesting that ribavirin is an important component of
- Responses were similar with 24 and 48 weeks of treatment in patients on the
triple-drug regimen, but fewer side effects were reported with the shorter