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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
New Drug Hope for Millions of Hepatitis C Victims

October 27, 2003
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.