Reuters (10.26.03) - Monday, October 27, 2003
A new drug that prevents a contagious virus from duplicating
in the body could be a new weapon against hepatitis C,
researchers working for the German pharmaceutical firm
Boehringer Ingelheim said Sunday.
More than 170 million people worldwide are infected with the
hepatitis C virus, which can cause permanent liver damage and
in many cases death. There is no vaccine against HCV, and
current interferon treatments - including Pegasys produced by
Roche Holding AG, and PeginTron made by Schering-Plough Corp.,
which are given in combination with the antiviral drug
ribavirin - can cause side effects.
The new drug, called BILN 2061, targets an enzyme to block the
replication of HCV, and is the first of a class of drugs
called NS3 protease inhibitors to be tested in humans. In
eight people given four doses of the treatment, viral loads
dropped by 100- to 1,000-fold after 48 hours without producing
any unpleasant reactions in the patients.
"The antiviral results of protease inhibitor BILN 2061 in a
proof-of-concept human trial clearly demonstrate the great
potential of selective and anti-HCV agents," said Daniel
Lamarre, of the company research center in Laval, Canada. The
report, "An NS3 Protease Inhibitor with Antiviral Effects in
Humans Infected with Hepatitis C Virus," was published online
by the journal Nature (doi:10.1038/nature02099 (2003)).
Although additional, longer trials are needed to see if BILN
2061 keeps the viral load down and if resistance develops, the
researchers believe "it holds great promise to markedly
improve treatments of chronic HCV infection."
Former US Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop has described
HCV as a graver threat to public health than AIDS. "Hepatitis
C already infects three times more people than does AIDS. It
is responsible for more than one-third of all liver
transplants," said Koop, adding that the disease could kill
more people than AIDS each year.