September 26, 2002
The experimental treatment involves weekly injections of Pegasys, a long-acting type of interferon called pegylated interferon. Pegasys could be approved for sale in the United States next month. A similar drug, Peg-Intron, went on the market last year. Both are given daily with the antiviral treatment ribavirin. The research was funded by Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical company that is developing Pegasys and a new brand of ribavirin.
Researchers report that six months after the 48-week treatment stopped, Pegasys and ribavirin together eliminated all traces of hepatitis C in 56 percent of the 1,121 patients treated at 81 medical centers worldwide. This compares with 44 percent success with patients receiving the standard treatment -- ribavirin and thrice-weekly shots of the shorter-acting form of interferon. Twenty-nine percent of those in a third group that received the new interferon and a placebo were apparently cured.
"This is one of the first times where we have more than half the people we treat have a good response," said lead researcher Dr. Michael W. Fried, director of liver disease treatment at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He said Pegasys offers a key advantage over the standard treatment: After 12 weeks of treatment, doctors can tell which patients it probably will cure. The others can stop the six- to-12 month treatment, sparing themselves serious side effects.
09.25.02; Linda A. Johnson
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