Just over half, 52 percent, of those who had telaprevir added to the two-drug regimen in the second round were virus-free after six months, compared to 14 percent of those who had a second round of the two-drug treatment.
But the therapy was not problem-free, McHutchison noted. "There were also more side effects, rashes and anemia," he said. "Also, the rate of discontinuation was higher as well."
Still, the high cure rate speaks for itself, McHutchison added. Data from the various trials probably will be submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration later this year, he said.
Telaprevir is a protease inhibitor, which works by blocking reproduction of the hepatitis C virus. It is not the only protease inhibitor being tested against hepatitis C, McHutchison said. Another such drug, boceprevir, appears to be running close to telaprevir in the race for regulatory approval. It is being developed by Merck, which acquired it when it bought Schering-Plough.
If and when they are approved, both protease inhibitors probably will be used for first-line treatment of hepatitis C, McHutchison said.
"Having more options for the patient is what it is all about," he explained.
A number of other protease inhibitors now are in various stages of testing, added Dr. Ira Jacobson, a professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and a member of the research team that did the telaprevir study. Jacobson has also been involved in development of boceprevir.
A new era in treatment of hepatitis C will begin when a first protease inhibitor is approved, Jacobson said. "The hope in the medical community is that the regulatory agencies will see fit to approve it for all populations," he added.
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