Cholesterol Drugs Fight Hepatitis C

Statin Drug Lescol May Add Punch to Hepatitis C Treatment Cocktail

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 07, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

July 7, 2006 -- Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs -- especially Lescol -- fight hepatitishepatitis C virus, Japanese researchers report.

Except for Pravachol, which seems to have no effect on hepatitis C, other statins also have some antihepatitis C activity. But in a new lab test designed to measure the drugs' ability to fight hepatitis C, Lescol was the most potent.

Moreover, the test-tube studies show Lescol boosts the effect of alpha interferon, the mainstay of hepatitis C treatment. That's important, since the current combination of long-acting interferon plus ribavirin does not cure some 45% of people infected with the liver-damaging virus.

Masanori Ikeda and colleagues of Okayama University report the findings in the July issue of the journal Hepatology.

"We clearly demonstrated that combination treatment of alpha interferon and [Lescol] was an overwhelmingly more effective treatment, compared with [our] previous results for the combination treatment of alpha interferon with ribavirin," Ikeda and colleagues conclude.

The researchers tested the drugs only in a cell-culture system -- not in people or animals.

Also, the concentration of Lescol they found to be effective is about 10 times higher than the concentration seen in the blood of people taking daily 40-milligram doses of the drug (Lescol doses as high as 80 milligrams per day are used to lower cholesterol).

This means that by itself, Lescol would not have much effect on hepatitis C. The good news is that the Lescol/alpha interferon combination cut replication of hepatitis C virus 97% more than alpha interferon by itself.

"We proposed that therapy combining [Lescol] with alpha interferon may be effective for the treatment of patients with chronic hepatitis C," Ikeda and colleagues write. They suggest a triple combination of Lescol, alpha interferon, and ribavirin would be even more effective.

However, there may be a downside to using statins to treat hepatitis C. This is, after all, a liver disease. And statins can damage the liver.

In the future, the researchers speculate, it may be possible to develop statin-like drugs that are even more potent against hepatitis C.