Hepatitis C Drug Fights HIV
Dose Peg-Intron Fights Virus And Boosts Immune System
Feb. 12, 2003 (Boston) -- Six months of
treatment with the hepatitis C drug Peg-Intron dramatically reduced active
virus in newly infected HIV patients, boosting their immune systems at the same
time, according to pilot study results released Wednesday.
HIV patients who took the drug had a more
than 800% decline in the active virus -- or viral load in their cells -- and
also increased immune cells called CD-4 cells by more than 30%. Norbert H.
Brockmeyer, MD, professor of medicine, Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany tells
WebMD the results were so impressive that his group is now conducting a larger
study that combines Peg-Intron with standard HIV treatment.
He says the drug works two ways: by
fighting the AIDS virus and aiding the immune system, which was damaged by the
Peg-Intron, or pegylated interferon
alfa-2b, was a major breakthrough for treatment of hepatitis C recently because
it allows once-a-week treatment rather than daily injections of interferon. In
addition to enduring daily shots, the standard interferon treatment is
associated with a number of side effects including headache, fatigue, flu-like
symptoms, and depression. Peg-Intron can cause these same side effects but they
are usually limited.
Brockmeyer says he thinks Peg-Intron is
especially well tolerated at low doses. In his study of newly infected HIV
patients the dose was 80 micrograms, about half of the standard
Robert Schooley, MD, of the University of
Colorado Health Center Denver, tells WebMD Brockmeyer's results are very
impressive and adds that other AIDS researchers are also studying the
long-acting interferon. Schooley, who was not associated with the study, says
typically interferon studies "report more side effects so this is a little
surprising," but he says ease of treatment may be due to the low dose
Richard Pollard, MD, chief of infectious
disease at the University of California, Davis, says he and his colleagues are
conducting a dose escalation study of Pegasys, another long-acting
interferon drug. He says his group is studying the drug as an add-on to
standard HIV treatment.
But both Pollard and Schooley caution
against too much enthusiasm for interferon since Brockmeyer's positive results
are based on a very small study of 10 patients who were in the early stage of
HIV infection. All of the patients were symptom-free and had received no HIV
treatment. Five of the patients, all men, were assigned to the Peg-Intron
treatment group and five were assigned to a control group. The control group
included two women.
The Peg-Intron patients received an
injection of the drug once a week for 24 weeks.
At baseline, the average CD-4 count in the
group that received Peg-Intron was 462 while the average baseline CD-4 count in
the control group was 535. After six months the average CD-4 count in the
treatment group had increased to 611 while the average CD-4 count in the
control group had dropped to 450.
The differences in viral loads, a term that
refers to the amount of HIV circulating in the blood, dropped from 22,158
copies/ml to 3,039 copies/ml. At the same time the viral load in the
control-group patients escalated from 7,136 copies/ml to 40,092