Researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center say that peginterferon alfa therapy harbors the cure for chronic hepatitis C.
Lead researcher Dr. Mitchell Shiffman says that the use of peginterferon alfa, either alone or in combination with ribavirin, points to a cure for the disease, which is a leading cause of cirrhosis, liver cancer and the need for liver transplant.
Announcing the findings at the 38th annual Digestive Disease Week conference in Washington, D.C., he said that 99 per cent of hepatitis C patients who were treated successfully with peginterferon, either alone or with in combination with ribavirin, did not have any detectable virus up to seven years later.
The researchers insist that the use of the words "cure for hepatitis C" is valid because a treatment for the disease is said to be successful when no virus is detected in the blood six months after it.
"We at VCU are encouraged by this data because it is rare in the treatment of life-threatening viral diseases that we can tell patients they may be cured. In hepatitis C today, we are able to help some patients achieve an outcome that effectively enables them to put their disease behind them," Shiffman said.
The new findings are based on a long-term follow-up study, during which researchers reviewed 997 cases of patients with chronic hepatitis C and patients with both hepatitis C and HIV, who had been successfully treated with either peginterferon alfa alone or with a combo of peginterferon alfa and ribavirin.
Thereafter, researchers monitored serum levels of the hepatitis C virus once a year for an average of 4.1 years(range 0.4 to 7 years). It was found that 989 of the 997 patients maintained undetectable levels of the virus. The remaining eight patients tested positive for the hepatitis C virus at an average of two years following treatment completion.
The study found that the eight patients exhibited no consistency in age, gender or hepatitis C virus genotype, and it has yet not been determined whether they experienced a relapse or re-infection with the virus.