An experimental new combination of drugs to treat hepatitis C has been shown to cure more patients with fewer side effects than the standard treatment for the potentially deadly liver-destroying infection that can be passed through sexual contact, researchers report in a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The experimental treatment involves weekly injections of Pegasys, a long-acting type of interferon, combined with the antiviral drug ribavirin. Researchers report that six months after 48 weeks of treatment had been stopped, Pegasys and ribavirin together eliminated all traces of hepatitis C in 56% of the 1,121 study subjects treated with the compounds, compared with 44% who received the standard therapy of ribavirin and thrice-weekly shots of a shorter-acting form of interferon.
"This is one of the first times where we have more than half the people we treat have a good response," said lead researcher Michael W. Fried, director of liver disease treatment at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Pegasys, developed by Roche, could be approved for sale in the United States next month. A similar drug, Peg-Intron, hit the market last year. The side effects of Pegasys, Peg-Intron, and regular interferon include fatigue, flu-like symptoms, nausea, irritability, depression, and psychiatric problems.