The European Association of the Study of Liver Disease wrapped up on Sunday in Copenhagen. Here are some of the hightlights of all things hepatitis C:
However, the viral load reductions and number of patients with undetectable levels of virus achieved by various dose combinations of ITMN-191 and R7128 over 14 days fell short of past studies combining a more potent oral drug like Vertex Pharmaceuticals' ( VRTX) telaprevir with standard of care for hepatitis C (long-acting injectable interferon and ribavirin). The INFORM-1 study is a solid proof of concept that an all-oral combination therapy for hepatitis C is possible, but Roche, InterMune and Pharmasset are going to have to show that higher doses of the drugs, especially of InterMune's ITMN-191, produce stronger antiviral efficacy in order to make it possible to eliminate the use of interferon and ribavirin.
This data keeps telaprevir ahead of its hepatitis C rivals because no other drug has yet shown the ability to improve the cure rates for both patients new to therapy as well as those who have failed prior therapy. Telaprevir was the "butt" of some negative EASL chatter due to an anecdotal report that the drug was causing severe anal itching in patient(s). One EASL attendee described the side effect as "fire in the hole." All jokes aside, itchy rash is a well-known and documented side effect of telaprevir, but there have been no confirmed reports of anal pruritis (the medical term for anal itching) in any of the telaprevir studies presented to date. In fact, patient discontinuation rates due to telaprevir-induced rash appear to be on the decline, as doctors and patients learn how to better manage the side effect. This should lead to higher cure rates for telaprevir in the ongoing phase III studies compared to the already high rates seen in the phase II trials.
Schering-Plough's ( SGP) boceprevir made some headlines last week with phase II cure rates numerically higher than what's been reported by Vertex's telaprevir in its phase II studies. But boceprevir still doesn't look competitive because the drug is causing significant rates of anemia in patients and requires dosing up to 48 weeks compared to 24-week dosing for telaprevir. Boceprevir is also ineffective for patients who have failed prior treatment.