Experimental Long-Acting Interferon Plus Ribavirin Cures More Hepatitis C Patients Than Standard Treatment
A hepatitis C treatment regimen that combines Pegasys -- an experimental version of pegylated interferon that is taken once a week -- with ribavirin is more effective at lowering viral levels than the standard treatment of ribavirin with interferon-alpha, according to a study published in today's New England Journal of Medicine, the AP/Baltimore Sun reports. Pegasys and interferon-alpha are both injection drugs, but interferon-alpha does not last as long as pegylated interferon and must be injected three times per week (AP/Baltimore Sun, 9/26). The researchers compared the results of 1,121 patients who were given a 48-week treatment regimen consisting of either ribavirin plus Pegasys, ribavirin plus interferon-alpha or Pegasys alone (Fried et al., New England Journal of Medicine, 9/26). Six months after the end of treatment, 56% of patients who received the Pegasys and ribavirin combination treatment had suppressed HCV viral load to undetectable levels, compared to 44% of patients who received ribavirin and interferon-alpha and 29% of patients who received Pegasys alone. "This is one of the first times where we have more than half the people we treat have a good response," Dr. Michael Fried, director of liver disease treatment at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the lead author of the study, said (Johnson, AP/Nando Times, 9/25). Dr. Lincoln Miller, director of infectious disease treatment at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, added that a greater number of hepatitis C patients will likely be placed on a treatment regimen involving pegylated interferon because the drug requires fewer self-injections, has fewer side effects and is more potent than interferon-alpha. Pegasys is manufactured by Roche, which funded the study (AP/Baltimore Sun, 9/26). Roche announced in July that the FDA granted "fast-track" review status to Pegasys in combination with Copegus, Roche's standard ribavirin therapy. Pegasys was granted marketing approval for use alone or in conjunction with Copegus by the European Commission in June (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/16). The FDA last year already approved a combination hepatitis C treatment regimen consisting of drug maker Schering Plough's versions of pegylated interferon and ribavirin (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/10/01).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.