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New Hepatitis C Treatment Shows Promise
Date:12/3/2009

But over time, between 60 percent and 70 percent will develop chronic liver disease. Eventually, the virus can cause enough damage to the liver to lead to the formation of scar tissue, and eventually cirrhosis. The virus can also cause liver cancer.

There are about 170 million people infected with hepatitis C worldwide, according to background information in the study. Many don't know they have it.

The standard treatment is a two-drug cocktail of interferon, which makes the immune system more effective in eradicating the virus, and ribavirin, an antiviral, which cures about half of those infected, said Dr. Bruce Bacon, director of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at Saint Louis University and co-director of the Saint Louis University Liver Center.

However, the side effects can be grueling, including flu-like symptoms, fatigue, depression and low white blood cell counts. Some patients have to be on the drugs for about six months, while some need about a year of treatment to kick the infection, Bacon said.

For those who don't respond to the two-drug cocktail, there are few options, Lanford said. Blacks are more likely to be among those in whom the treatments do not work, possibly due to genetic factors, Lanford noted.

SPC3649 may one day replace interferon, or be combined with the other drugs to augment it, Lanford said. Some evidence indicates it may work in those who don't respond to interferon. In the study, researchers gave four infected chimps SPC3649 intravenously for 12 weeks.

While the findings are exciting, the study involved only four chimps and there's a long way to go before this drug is ready for humans, Bacon said.

"What they have shown is successful reduction in the virus and no clear evidence of resistance, which are two of the major principals that need to be achieved with new therapies," Bacon said. "But what they have to prove now is whether this is a durable respo
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