WEDNESDAY, March 30 (HealthDay News) -- Adding the new drug boceprevir to the current two-drug treatment for hepatitis C appears significantly more effective than the standard therapy, according to two new studies.
The drugs now used to treat hepatitis C, a chronic liver disease, are the antivirals peginterferon and ribavirin (Copegus, Rebetol, RibaTab and Ribasphere). Combining them with the not-yet approved drug boceprevir increased the response rate, researchers say.
Merck, the manufacturer of boceprevir, funded both studies, which are published in the March 31 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
"Boceprevir, a protease inhibitor, along with peginterferon and ribavirin increases response rates in previously untreated patients," said Dr. Raj Reddy, co-researcher of one of the studies and director of hepatology and medical director of liver transplantation at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
"Also, with this new strategy you have the potential of reducing the duration of therapy, from 48 weeks to 28 weeks," he added.
"We have turned the corner, a bit, and we have a combination treatment that is likely to be more effective in more people," he said.
For his study, 1,097 people, 159 of whom were black, who had not been treated for hepatitis C were randomly assigned to one of three groups. All groups were treated with peginterferon and ribavirin. After four weeks, one group also received a placebo for 44 weeks; another group had boceprevir added to their treatment for 24 weeks. The third group was given the three drugs for 44 weeks.
Among non-black patients, 40 percent achieved a sustained response to standard care. But as many as 68 percent of those also receiving boceprevir achieved sustained response at 28 weeks, the researchers found.
For black patients, the response rate was 23 percent for those receiving s
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