Cost regulators in England and Wales have backed the use of peginterferon alfa on the National Health Service to treat children with hepatitis C.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has this morning published draft guidance recommending a combination of peginterferon alfa and ribavirin as an option for chronic forms of the disease in children and young people.

Consequently, Roche's Pegasys (peginterferon alfa-2a) and Merck Sharp and Dohme's ViraferonPeg (peginterferon alfa-2b) will now be on the NHS treatment menu, being the only ones currently licensed in the UK for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C in children and adolescents.

Hepatitis C is a potentially debilitating condition, which, if left untreated, can cause liver cirrhosis and eventual liver failure many years down the line.

NICE's independent Appraisal Committee concluded that treatment with peginterferon alfa and ribavirin "can decrease the hepatitis C virus to undetectable levels, effectively providing the equivalent of a cure for the disease".

Based on an average age of 11 years, a body weight of 35.5kg and a body surface area of 1.19m2, a 24-week course of peginterferon alfa-2a and ribavirin costs approximately £3,700 while a 48-week course of treatment costs approximately £7,400, the Institute said.

In both cases, treatment with Pegasys/ribavirin and Viraferon/ribavirin were found be more cost-effective than best support of care, but the cost watchdog was unable to recommend one therapy over the other on the data provided, it noted.