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Hopkins researchers find potential new treatment for children with chronic hepatitis C

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and five other institutions have found that a drug recently approved for adults with chronic hepatitis C (CHC) also may be a safe and effective treatment for children with the disease. The study is believed to be the first to examine how the drug, peginterferon alfa-2a, affects the young.

The hepatitis C virus (HCV), the leading cause of liver disease in the United States, is responsible for an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 deaths annually. It is spread primarily by contact with blood and blood products. Blood transfusions and the use of shared, unsterilized, or poorly sterilized needles and syringes have been the main causes of the spread of the virus in the U.S. among adults.

Presented today at the Digestive Disease Week conference, the findings could change the way doctors treat children with CHC, according to the study's lead author, Kathleen B. Schwarz, M.D., director of the Division of Gastroenterology and Nutrition at the Children's Center.

"At present, there is no FDA-approved treatment for children 18 years old and younger with the disease. Our results provide a basis for conducting a large-scale, randomized controlled trial to test this new form of interferon alone, or in combination with ribavirin, an antiviral medication, which is the current treatment of choice for adults with CHC," she said. "Such a study will be necessary before the Food and Drug Administration can approve the drug for children."

Some children with CHC have been treated with three shots a week of interferon to increase the amount of the naturally occurring infection fighter. Peginterferon alfa-2a is a new, longer acting version that, when taken weekly, maintains interferon levels in the blood for a longer period of time. The drug also has been shown more effective in adults with CHC than standard interferon.

In the multi-center
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Contact: Jessica Collins
jcolli31@jhmi.edu
410-516-4570
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
19-May-2003


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