NIH-Convened Hepatitis C Panel Endorses Combination Therapy, Calls for Additional Treatment Research
A 12-member NIH-convened independent panel on Wednesday endorsed combination therapy with ribavirin and pegylated interferon as the "best way" to treat hepatitis C but encouraged researchers to determine the best treatment for individual patients, Reuters Health reports. According to the panel, the combination treatment works well in approximately 50% of those with the most common strain of hepatitis C. However, the regimen can cause "severe" side effects such as depression and blood abnormalities in some patient groups (Frieden, Reuters Health, 6/13). The panel, which drafted the 39-page document after two days of discussion and testimony, also "urged" the inclusion of the elderly, children, HIV-positive patients, and drug or alcohol users in hepatitis C clinic trials (Nelson, Newsday, 6/13). Panel chair Dr. James Boyer, director of the Liver Center at the Yale University School of Medicine, said that research suggests that such patient groups "'respond to treatment,' even if they don't respond as well as patients with less complicated cases". In addition, the panel recommended increased hepatitis C screenings for people such as health care workers, HIV-positive individuals and intravenous drug users who are at "high risk" for the disease. The panel did not support universal hepatitis C screening and called it "ineffective" because only an estimated 1% of the population is infected with the virus. The panel also recommended that children in grades K-12 be educated about the symptoms and spread of the virus (Reuters Health, 6/13). In addition, the panel recommended the establishment of an NIH Hepatitis Clinical Research Network to be patterned after a similar network for clinical research on HIV/AIDS (Newsday, 6/13). Approximately four million people in the United States are infected with hepatitis C (Reuters Health, 6/13).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.