Combining an old drug with an experimental one may cure many cases of hard-to-treat hepatitis C -- without the harsh side effects of the standard regimen, a U.S. government study finds.
Experts said the study, reported in the Aug. 28 Journal of the American Medical Association, is an important research step. It focused on patients who often do not respond well to the current hepatitis C drug regimen because they already had liver damage, harbored a particularly stubborn strain of the virus or had other "unfavorable treatment characteristics."
In other words, they were the patients who often are left out of clinical trials.
"This was the real world, and the treatment response was really quite good," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the researchers on the work.
Of the 60 patients in the trial, 48 percent to 68 percent had the virus cleared from their bodies, depending on the drug dose.
The therapy included one older hepatitis C drug, called ribavirin, and one currently being considered for approval in the United States and Europe, called sofosbuvir. Most important, the regimen excluded interferon -- an injection drug that is part of the current standard treatment for hepatitis C.
Interferon is difficult to take and can cause side effects including sleep problems, depression, nausea, diarrhea, muscle pain, fever and fatigue. Researchers are working on various interferon-free drug regimens for hepatitis C.