Roche has presented new data which it claims can help doctors predict which patients will respond best to its hepatitis B drug,Pegasys and even provide a clinical cure.

The Swiss major said that several studies presented at the Asian Pacific Association for the Study of the Liver (APASL) meeting in Hong Kong, focused on measuring the decline in levels of a viral protein called surface or S-antigen, “to provide insight into the likelihood of treatment success” for patients treated with Pegasys (peginterferon alfa-2a). S-antigen clearance, which is considered a clinical cure, is associated with greatly reduced liver cancer, cirrhosis and an improved life expectancy, Roche noted.

Measuring S-antigen decline throughout treatment can help determine success in the long-term, according to Patrick Marcellin, professor of hepatology at the University of Paris. ”Doctors can now therefore make a strong case to certain patients that Pegasys treatment may provide treatment success or even a clinical cure,” he added.

One of the studies presented at APASL noted that at year five, 12.2% of Pegasys-treated patients had cleared S-antigen, compared with just 3.5% of those-treated with lamivudine. Whilst modest, Roche said that the number of patients who achieve s-antigen clearance on Pegasys therapy “is a breakthrough because such high rates of s-clearance have never been shown with an oral antiviral”.

William Burns, head of Roche Pharmaceuticals, noted that unlike anti-viral tablets for hepatitis B, “which just reduce the number of viral copies, Pegasys also boosts the body’s immune system and mobilises it to fight the disease”. As a result of these immune-stimulating effects, the number of patients treated with Pegasys who achieve a clinical cure has been shown to continue increasing for years after the end of treatment”, he claimed, and “this supports its use as a first-line therapy for hepatitis B”.

Pegasys is approved for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B in over 60 countries. The disease affects more than 350 million people worldwide and some one million people die from it annually,