Houston Chronicle Profiles Baylor Trial of Pegylated Interferon and Ribavirin
The Houston Chronicle on Monday examined an ongoing clinical trial of a new drug, pegylated interferon, which is used in conjunction with ribavirin to treat hepatitis C, a disease that is spread through blood contact and is often found in conjunction with HIV infection. Pegylated interferon is a new version of interferon-alpha that is chemically altered using pegylation technology, allowing the drug to remain undetected by the immune system so it can remain active longer than the non-pegylated version. Researchers at the Hepatitis Center at Baylor College of Medicine and The Methodist Hospital administer the pegylated interferon and ribavirin combination to patients with hepatitis C for one year, and Dr. Reem Ghalib, the trial's director, said that 61% of the patients have cleared the virus, which can cause chronic liver failure, from their blood at the end of the treatment period. The older form of interferon, used in combination with ribavirin, has been shown to be successful in clearing the virus in about 30% of patients. "The pegylated form delays the clearance of the drug from the blood, so it's longer-acting and hits (the virus) on a more consistent basis. Since there's more constant suppression, we can give it once a week instead of three times a week," Ghalib explained. After participants test negative for the virus, therapy is discontinued and patients must return for a check-up in six months. If their blood is still clear of the virus at that time, the odds of the infection rebounding are less than 5%, Ghalib, who is also testing another form of pegylated interferon that has not yet received FDA approval, said. Side effects including flu-like symptoms, poor appetite and depression have been reported by participants using the pegylated interferon and ribavirin regimen; however, most patients endorse the drugs. "I'm bouncing off the walls. I can tell a big difference," Cathy Murphy, who was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1994 and had reached stage III of liver damage before beginning the trial, said. Murphy is now clear of the virus and her liver enzyme counts have increased. People with a history of intravenous drug use, multiple sex partners or nasal cocaine use and those who received blood transfusions before 1992 are at an increased risk for the disease (Lake, Houston Chronicle, 3/18).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.