The 10 patients on the four-drug regimen experienced a sustained virologic response with undetectable virus at the end of treatment and again at 12 weeks beyond their treatment, the researchers reported. In the two-drug group, four of the 11 patients also had undetectable levels of the hepatitis C virus in their blood 12 weeks after treatment ended.
All of the patients were infected with genotype 1, the most common type of hepatitis C virus in the United States, and had not responded to previous treatment with interferon and ribavirin, said Lok.
"The four-drug arm was very impressive. These patients had not shown a response before and now we get a 90 to 100 percent rate of sustained response," said Lok.
She said even though only four patients in the two-drug group reached a sustained response, this is the first study to show it can be achieved without interferon or ribavirin.
"Clearly, this is the biggest development in hepatitis C research in a very long time," said Dr. Raymond Chung, director of hepatology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who wrote an accompanying editorial in the same issue of the journal. "It has enormous implications for our ability to treat many more patients with regimens that are significantly more tolerable."
The most common side effects reported were headache, diarrhea, nausea and fatigue, the study authors said.
Chung called the study "a watershed moment" because it suggests that an interferon-free treatment is possible. "The conventional wisdom for quite some time has been that hepatitis C would likely not be curable without an interferon backbone."
Duke's Dr. Muir added, "The study is also exceptional because it included patients we would describe as the most difficult to treat." Their viral load did not go down very much when they underwent interferon and ribavirin treatment in the past.
The new drugs are not F
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