Interferon does not slow, halt progression of Hepatitis C in some patients

November 14th, 2007 - 10:22 am ICT by admin  

Interferons (IFNs) are natural proteins produced by the cells of the immune system of most vertebrates in response to challenges by foreign agents such as viruses, bacteria, parasites and tumor cells. Interferons belong to the large class of glycoproteins known as cytokines. They assist the immune response by inhibiting viral replication within other cells of the body.

In a trial conducted by the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, patients who were treated with interferon did experience a noteworthy decrease in viral levels and liver inflammation, but the trial unequivocally showed that treatment with long-term pegylated interferon - also called peginterferon - does not prevent the worsening of liver disease in patients who’ve failed prior treatments.

“The results are this study are very clear - long-term therapy with peginterferon for those with chronic hepatitis C is not effective in preventing progression of liver disease for patients who did not respond to an initial course of treatment,” said Adrian Di Bisceglie, M.D., professor of internal medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine and chairman of the trial’s steering committee.

“Furthermore, the relatively high rate of liver disease progression - about 30 percent over nearly four years - indicates the potential severity of chronic hepatitis C and emphasizes the importance of the ongoing search for new and more effective treatments,” Di Bisceglie added.

The randomized, multi-site study involved 1,050 patients with chronic hepatitis C who’d failed prior treatments to eradicate the infection. All had advanced liver fibrosis - a gradual scarring of the liver that puts patients at risk for progressive liver disease.

The trial assessed whether long-treatment with peginterferon prevented the patients from developing cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer. Roughly half of the patients in the study received 90 micrograms of peginterferon in weekly injections for 3.5 years. The other half, the control group, underwent the same follow-up and care as the treated patients, including liver biopsies, quarterly clinic visits and blood tests.

At the end of the study, while patients treated with interferon did have significantly lower blood levels of the hepatitis C virus and less liver inflammation, 34.1 percent of them had experienced one or more of the following outcomes: excess fluid in the abdomen; brain and nervous system damage; cirrhosis (for those who did not have it initially); liver cancer; or death. Of patients in the control group, 33.8 percent experienced one or more of the outcomes.

Among treated patients, adverse side effects had caused 17 percent to stop peginterferon after 18 months and 30 percent to stop treatment by the end of the trial.

Results of the study were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease in Boston this week. (ANI)

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