Top Hepatitis C Treatments Equally Effective
Landmark assessment also finds treating early helps prevent liver failure
Posted July 22, 2009
WEDNESDAY, July 22 (HealthDay News) -- A landmark hepatitis C virus study shows
that the top two treatment options are equally effective and safe.
The long-awaited study, thought to be the largest of its kind, is important for
the 180 million people worldwide -- 4 million in the United States -- who are
infected with hepatitis C virus and at risk for liver scarring, organ failure
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Hepatitis C is America's leading cause of liver failure, liver cancer and liver
transplantation. The disease is transmitted by contact with blood through sexual
activities, drug use or personal care items.
The study of 3,070 adults at Johns Hopkins and 118 other U.S. medical centers
showed that treating patients with either of the two standard antiviral
therapies is safe and helps prevent liver damage.
The report appears online July 22 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The drug therapies -- peginterferon alfa-2b plus ribavirin, or peginterferon
alfa-2a plus ribavirin -- worked in 39.8 percent and 40.9 percent of patients,
respectively. Commonly observed side effects included anemia, fatigue, headache,
nausea, insomnia and depression.
The equality of the only two U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved
drug-treatment regimens for suppressing the virus surprised the researchers,
according to a news release from Johns Hopkins.
"When considering treatments for hepatitis C infection, patients and their
doctors now have solid evidence that they can weigh both antiviral therapies
equally for effectiveness, safety and tolerability," Dr. Mark Sulkowski, medical
director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Viral Hepatitis and the study's
co-principal investigator, said in the news release.
While 10 percent to 13 percent of the study's participants quit the treatment
because of side effects, Sulkowski said that was "within expectations for this
type of therapy."
The researchers also found that the sooner patients get into treatment, the
"Treatment success is highly dependent on starting before liver cirrhosis has
already set in, which can take from a year to decades," Sulkowski noted in the
Evidence from the study also will help doctors learn more quickly whether the
patient is responding to the drug therapy. This will allow patients to avoid
side effects and the expense of taking unnecessary drugs.
The study was funded by the Schering-Plough Corp., the maker and provider of the
study drugs ribavirin and peginterferon alfa-b.
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