Palaces For The People
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
New hope for hepatitis C victims

MORE THAN 170 million people around the globe are infected with the virus that can cause permanent liver damage and in many cases death.

There is no vaccine against the hepatitis C virus (HVC) and current treatments can cause unwanted side effects.

But scientists working for the German drugs giant Boehringer Ingelheim have developed a drug that could offer new hope to patients with the illness.

Called BILN 2061, the drug targets an enzyme to block the replication of the virus. In eight people given four doses of the treatment viral loads, or the amount of virus in the blood, 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,” Daniel Lamarre, of the company research centre in Laval, Canada, said in a report published online by the science journal Nature.

BILN 2061 is the first of a class of drugs called NS3 protease inhibitors to be tested in humans.

Although more longer trials are needed to see if the drug keep the viral load down and if resistance develops, the scientists believe it “holds great promise to markedly improve treatments of chronic HCV infection.”

Former U.S. surgeon general Dr C. Everett Koop has described the illness 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,” Koop warned in an Internet message, adding that the illness could kill more people than AIDS each year.

Hepatitis C is currently treated using interferons, including Pegasys produced by Roche Holding AG and PeginTron made by Schering-Plough Corp. Both treatments are given in combination with the antiviral drug ribavirin.

Canadian actress Pamela Anderson, who shot to stardom in the television series Baywatch, announced last year that she was being treated for hepatitis C. She claimed she was infected by sharing a tattoo needle with her ex-husband, rocker Tommy Lee.

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