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New Drug Combo for Hepatitis C Shows Promise
Date:1/19/2012

By Mary Brophy Marcus
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 18 (HealthDay News) -- A new cocktail of two investigational drugs appears to have successfully cleared the hepatitis C virus in people who don't respond to standard treatment.

What's more, the approach seems to work without the need for injections with interferon alpha, an onerous medication that causes serious side effects in many patients.

Scientists from seven U.S. medical centers and drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb published the small study in the Jan. 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine that is being heralded as "landmark" research.

"We saw a sustained virologic response -- the virus was undetectable in the patients -- during treatment and remained undetectable after the drugs were stopped," said study author Dr. Anna Lok, director of clinical hepatology at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.

Hepatitis C virus, spread through contact with contaminated blood, is the most common form of the virus and affects 180 million people globally, including 4.1 million Americans. It's the leading cause of chronic liver disease, and can lead to liver cancer. The standard treatment includes injections of the antiviral drug interferon alpha, which isn't tolerated well by everyone, said Dr. Andrew Muir, director of gastroenterology and hepatology research at the Duke Clinical Research Institute. Its many side effects include flu-like symptoms, fatigue, fever and depression.

"Many patients cannot complete treatment or decide not to take treatment because of interferon alpha," Muir said.

The study had two arms, said Lok. A group of 10 patients received four medications, including the two investigational drugs, the antivirals daclatasvir and asunaprevir, along with the standard treatment combination of interferon and ribavirin. The other arm of the study included 11 patients who received only the two investigation
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