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New Drug May Expand Treatment for Hepatitic C

Eltrombopag allows patients greater tolerance for common medications, researchers say

TUESDAY, Oct. 31, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A new drug called eltrombopag may enable certain hepatitis C patients to take antiviral medications they previously could not use to fight the disease, researchers say.

Hepatitis C patients with cirrhosis and abnormally low platelet levels -- a disorder called thrombocytopenia -- can't take two standard medications, ribavirin and pegylated interferon. These drugs, which are commonly used to fight hepatitis C infection, cause platelet levels to decrease even further.

However, eltrombopag works by stimulating cells in the bone marrow to produce more platelets, said the study's principal investigator Dr. John McHutchison, a liver specialist and professor of medicine at Duke University.

"Eltrombopag increases platelet levels to the point where patients with thrombocytopenia can be effectively treated with the antiviral therapies. If the promising results we've seen so far in these early clinical trials are borne out in future larger scale registration trials, we will be able to potentially treat many more patients for whom there are currently no options," McHutchison said in a prepared statement.

The study was supported by GlaxoSmithKline, which developed eltrombopag. McHutchison has also received research support from the drug company.

The Phase II trial included 74 hepatitis C patients with thrombocytopenia who were placed in one of four groups: three groups received eltrombopag at doses of 30 milligrams, 50 milligrams or 75 milligrams. Patients in the fourth group received a placebo.

"We found that 95 percent of the patients who received the highest dose of the new drug responded with increased levels of platelets, and 91 percent of those patients were then able to start antiviral therapy with pegylated interferon and ribavirin," McHutchison said. "After 12 weeks, 61 percent of these patients were still able to maintain antiviral therapy."

The study also found that platelet levels in 75 percent of the patients taking the lower doses of eltrombopag increased enough to allow them to begin antiviral therapy. Of those, 53 percent of the patients taking the 50 milligram dose and 36 percent of those taking the 30 milligram dose were able to complete 12 weeks of antiviral treatment.

The patients who took the placebo showed no improvement in platelet levels.

The study was expected to be presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Association for Liver Disease, in Boston.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about hepatitis C.

SOURCE: Duke University Medical Center, news release, Oct. 30, 2006
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