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Advances in health and medicine.
Marjorie Bekaert Thomas
Advances in health and medicine.
General Health Channel
Reported April 1, 2011

Drug cocktail Offers New Hope For Hepatitis C Patients

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- People who suffer from hepatitis C may be in luck—according to researchers at Henry Ford Hospital, a new three-drug cocktail eliminates the virus more effectively than the current two-drug treatment.

At least 3.2 million Americans have hepatitis C, which is a chronic viral disease that affects the liver. Most people with the virus don’t show any symptoms for years, and when symptoms do show up, it is often too late to treat. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 12,000 people a year die from the liver disease and liver cancer associated with hepatitis C.

Before 1990, hepatitis C was spread through contact with infected blood products. It is often spread through the sharing needles or straws during drug use. Among immigrants to the U.S., the virus may have been transmitted by the use of non-sterile syringes used for giving vaccines.

There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C, and until now the standard for hepatitis C medication was a two-drug regimen—peginterferon-ribavirin. The third drug now in the mix, boceprevir, is a protease inhibitor: it specifically targets and inhibits the replication of the hepatitis C virus.

To test the effectiveness of boceprevir in addition to peginterferon-ribavirin (the usual two-drug course), the participants in the study were divided into three groups. For the first four weeks of the study, all three groups received the usual peginterferon-ribavirin regimen for hepatitis C. After the four weeks, group 1 (the control group) continued on the same two-drug course for 44 more weeks, while group two received boceprevir and the two usual drugs for 32 additional weeks. Patients in group two with a detectable hepatitis C virus level at week 8 were given a placebo and peginterferon-ribavirin for an extra twelve weeks. Group three received the new three-drug cocktail for 44 weeks.

The results of the study showed the rate of the loss of the virus, or sustained virologic response, was much higher in the two groups treated with boceprevir than in the control group (59% and 66% for groups two and three, respectively, as opposed to 21% for the control group). The sustained virologic response was also high among patients with undetectable levels of the virus at week 8: after 32 weeks, the sustained virologic response was 86%, and after 44 weeks, 88%. A sustained virologic response usually means that the virus has been cured.

Stuart C. Gordon, M.D., co-author of the study and section chief for the Division of Hepatology at Henry Ford Hospital, was quoted as saying, “We will soon have a new standard of treatment for hepatitis C patients. This study ushers in a new era of drug development that will provide a host of antiviral agents to treat hepatitis C, and we are now witnessing dramatic and rapid advances in how we will be able to treat these patients.”

SOURCE: The New England Journal of Medicine, March 31, 2011

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