USA-based biopharmaceutical company ViroPharma says that it has begun patient dosing in a Phase II trial of HCV-796, its orally-active hepatitis C virus (HCV) polymerase inhibitor.

The programme, which is being conducted in partnership with US drug major Wyeth, is designed to assess the agent's safety, tolerability and antiviral activity.

ViroPharma said the study will examine HCV-796 on top of standard treatment with a pegylated interferon - Schering-Plough’s PegIntron (peginterferon alfa-2b) plus ribavirin - in treatment-naive HCV genotype 1 infected individuals, as well as in those who have not responded to prior therapy. The combined regimen will be compared with standard treatment alone.

The US company went on to say that it would initially try to enrol 267 patients into the open-label study, who would be divided into various groups either receiving the standard treatment alone, or this plus 500mg HCV-796 every 12 hours, for an initial period of 12 weeks.

Hepatitis C virus infection represents a significant public health concern around the world, with an estimated 170 million people infected worldwide, and only a fraction of those patients diagnosed and even fewer treated.