(dailyRx News) The current two-drug treatment for hepatitis C does not work as well as patients would like.
Now, researchers have found that adding a third drug to the mix leads to better results.
In a recent study, researchers found that hepatitis C patients respond better to treatment when the drug boceprevir is added to the standard treatment of peginterferon (Pegasys) and ribavirin (Copegus, Rebetol, RibaTab, Ribasphere).
In fact, as much as 68 percent of patients who took the boceprevir combination treatment were bascially cured - known as achieving a sustained virological response.
For their study, Fred Poordad, M.D., and colleagues treated a total of 1,097 hepatitis C patients with three different drug regimens. The first group took a placebo with peginterferon and ribavirin for 44 weeks.
The second group took boceprevir with peginterferon and ribavirin for 24 weeks. The third group took boceprevir with peginterferon and ribavirin for 44 weeks.
Among non-black patients taking a placebo with standard therapy (first group), 40 percent had a sustained virologic response. However, 67 percent of non-black patients who took boceprevir for 24 weeks (second group) had a sustained virologic response.
A similar amount of non-black patients (68 percent) in the third group had a sustained virologic response. Among black patients in the first group, 23 percent had a sustained virologic response, compared to 42 percent and 53 percent in the second and third groups, respectively.
While boceprevir is not yet approved, these results are great news for people suffering from this liver-damaging virus.
Approximately 3 million people in the United States are infected with hepatitis C, and up to 20,000 new infections occur annually. It is a viral infection that attacks the liver, and while usually asymptomatic in early infection, may cause decreased appetite, fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, itching, and flu-like symptoms. If untreated, it can progress to cause cirrhosis, fibrosis, liver cancer, and liver failure. It is a leading cause of liver transplantation. Most commonly, hepatitis C is transmitted through sharing needles with infected persons for injected drug use. Piercing, tattooing, blood transfusions, and dental work also carry the risk of transmission, although occupational safety standards have made it rare. Transmission through sexual contact is also possible, but rare. Diagnosis is made from a simple blood test if concern for exposure is present, and abnormal liver tests may also point towards the diagnosis. Treatment can result in clearing of the virus, but 50%-80% of patients will develop chronic infection. Primary medications are injections of pegylated interferon-alpha-2a (Pegasys, PEG-Intron) or pegylated interferon-alpha-2b, and the antiviral drug ribavirin (Copegus, Rebetol, RibaTab, Ribasphere).
The study is published in The New England Journal of Medicine.