New Treatment Successful With Hepatitis C

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- An inexpensive new treatment for hepatitis C, a disease that afflicts 1-2 percent of the population, is more effective than the standard therapy, according to a recent study.

The pilot study, recently completed at Penn State's Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, treated patients with amantadine, a drug that has been available in the United States since the 1960s. Thirty percent of the patients in the study responded to amantadine treatment.

Amantadine costs only $20 per month -- a tiny fraction of the cost of interferon, the conventional treatment for hepatitis C. Interferon costs approximately $500 per month, and must be administered for at least six months.

Jill P. Smith, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Hershey, discovered that amantadine is an effective alternative treatment for hepatitis C -- without the extensive side effects associated with interferon. Smith will present the results of her study on May 19 at San Francisco's Mosconi Convention Center as part of the annual meeting of the American Gastroenterological Association and the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.

Interferon's frequent side effects include a drop in white blood cell count and flu-like syndrome with aches, pains and fever. Hair loss, anemia, thyroid disease and severe depression occur less frequently.

Amantadine has fewer side effects, including: difficulty in concentration, constipation and rare cardiac symptoms in some elderly patients. Another drawback of interferon treatment is that only 50 percent of the patients respond to it, according to Smith. Half of those responders relapse after they stop the six months of therapy, dropping the effectiveness rate to approximately 25 percent.

The poor response, side effects and cost of interferon treatment prompted Smith to look for another drug.

Smith's study included 22 patients who were monitored over a four-year period.

Contact: Gail Brown
Penn State

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