New drug improves Hepatitis C treatment

Patients suffering the lethal Hepatitis C disease stand twice as much chance of recovering if they add a new medicine to the existing therapy regiment, a new study has revealed.

The new drug is an antiviral medication called Boceprevir developed by Merck and if it is added to the current two-drug standard treatment for the Hepatitis C, the therapy against the potentially deadly viral infection could be made nearly twice as effective, says the study.

The existing standard two-drug treatment uses Pegylated Interferon and the antiviral drug Ribavirin. This combination, however, fails to evoke the desired virological response in more than half patients, according to the researchers of Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

The Indiana researchers conducted a two-phase trial involving 520 Hepatitis C patients in 67 sites across the United States, Canada and Europe to find out ways to improve the outcome. They tried several drug cocktails of various strengths for 48 weeks on the patients. Some of the drug combinations included Boceprevir, while others did not.

Upon analyzing the data, the investigators found that there was a consistent boost of viral response in patients who received the mix of medications containing Boceprevir, regardless of other factors including attempts to reduce the length of treatment or the amount of standard medications given to patients.

The study team, which reported their findings online prior to its publication in the medical journal The Lancet, said the increased response rates in difficult-to-treat groups, including black participants and those with cirrhosis.

Boceprevir, in combination with pegylated interferon and ribavirin, achieves high (virological response) rates with 28 weeks of therapy in most patients, and is safe and effective for use up to 48 weeks in the few patients who benefit from longer duration of therapy," the researchers say.

Doctors Laura Milazzo and Spinello Antinori of the Universita degli Studi de Milano in Milan, said that the addition of the third drug "substantially improved the proportion of sustained virological responses, although not to the desired proportion," in an accompanying commentary.

About a quarter of blood samples taken from the patients showed signs of viral resistance against boceprevir, Milazzo and Antinori said. However, they noted that a number of questions, including drug-drug interactions and the role of genetics in predicting patient outcomes, also need to be considered. The study was funded by Merck.

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