Novel therapy combinations gain ground in treating hepatitis

Posted by ATMAJA'Z

LOS ANGELES (May 21, 2006) - According to recent estimates, hepatitis has become a worldwide health problem, affecting millions of people in the U.S. and abroad.
Researchers are experimenting with combinations of anti-inflammatory medicines like interferons to improve hepatitis symptoms. In research presented today at Digestive Disease Week® 2006 (DDW), new combinations of therapies are making significant progress to improve symptoms of the disease. DDW is the largest international gathering of physicians and researchers in the fields of gastroenterology, hepatology, endoscopy and gastrointestinal surgery.

Hepatitis is caused by a virus that attacks the liver, triggering painful inflammation and often leading to more serious conditions like liver failure and even death. Several different forms of hepatitis exist, including hepatitis A, B and C. Hepatitis A is generally food-borne, while hepatitis B and C are spread primarily through parenteral or sexual routes. The disease is often caused by a virus, but can also result from alcohol, toxins or drugs.

"Despite the significant number of people suffering from hepatitis, treatment options have been lagging in comparison to other major diseases," said John Vierling, M.D., FACP, president, the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD); professor of Medicine and Surgery at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas; and director of Baylor Liver Health and Chief of Hepatology. "We hope that continued research like these studies will lead to more significant breakthroughs and relief for these patients."

Valopicitabine (NM283), Alone or with Peg-Interferon, Compared to Peg Interferon/Ribavirin (pegIFN/RBV) Retreatment in Hepatitis C Patients with Prior Non-Response to PegIFN/RBV: Week 24 Results [Abstract 4]

More than half of currently treated hepatitis patients are infected with strains of hepatitis C that do not respond to current interferon therapies and have no other effective treatment options. Combination treatment using a new antiviral therapy is showing promise in suppressing the virus, according to a phase II US multi-center study. The therapy, valopicitabine, has shown anti-HCV activity alone and in combination with pegIFN (pegylated interferon) in early trials, without viral breakthrough for study periods up to six months.

The current study compared the outcomes of five different treatments in patients who have not experienced remission with standard therapies: valopicitabine alone (800 mg/d), one of three combination arms with the drug at 400 mg/d, 800 mg/d or dose-ramping 400 to 800 mg/d plus pegIFN, or pegIFN with ribavirin as a control group.

For the 162 patients who have completed the trial period at 24 weeks, results show that the two higher-dose combination arms had much better response rates than the control group, experiencing on average a 2.5 to 3.0 log decrease in hepatitis RNA reductions by week 24, a significantly better response than the comparator. No viral breakthrough has been seen to date. However, vomiting and dehydration requiring hospitalization occurred in three patients taking the highest dose (800 mg), forcing the research team to halt the use of that dose and continue using only the lower doses of 200 to 400 mg of the drug.

"For patients whose disease has not responded to current therapies, this new combination treatment may produce excellent results, at the maximally acceptable dosage," according to Paul Pockros, M.D., of Scripps Clinic in California, and lead study author. "Continued treatment will determine if these encouraging early responses will result in a sustained response, hopefully improving patient quality of life and long-term survival."