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Study: Hepatitis Shots Show Promise

September 26, 2002

This article is part of The Body PRO's archive. Because it contains information that may no longer be accurate, this article should only be considered a historical document.

An experimental new combination of drugs for hepatitis C cures more patients with fewer side effects than the standard treatment for the potentially deadly, liver-destroying infection, researchers say. According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine ("Peginterferon Alfa-2a Plus Ribavirin for Chronic Hepatitis C," September 26, 2002, Vol. 347, No. 13, P. 975-982), the new treatment could give doctors a more potent weapon against the virus at a time when experts are forecasting a surge in cases of hepatitis liver damage over the next few years.

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.

Pegasys, Peg-Intron and regular interferon have common, serious side effects, including fatigue, flu-like symptoms, nausea, irritability, depression and psychiatric problems. Flu symptoms and depression are slightly less likely with Pegasys.

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Adapted from:
Associated Press
09.25.02; Linda A. Johnson

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.


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