A study presented at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) conference in Boston has shown that some chronic hepatitis C patients could be able to cut their treatment time with Roche’s pegylated interferon drug Pegasys in half.

These ‘super responders’ could see a response to treatment in just 24 weeks, rather than the usual 48 week regimen, according to the company.

The 24-week regimen of Pegasys (peginterferon alfa-2a) plus Copegus (ribavirin) is made possible by a diagnostic test, given after four weeks’ treatment, which reveals how well a patient is responding to therapy.

As well as the obvious cost-savings from such a approach, patients could also benefit from reduced side effects, improved convenience and quality of life and potentially an early psychological boost from the knowledge that their treatment is working, said Roche.

In this study, patients Pegasys once a week with a daily dose of Copegus, and had their viral load tested after four weeks. Super-responders - who were virus-free at week four - were treated for only another 20 weeks, receiving a total of 24 weeks of therapy.

All other patients continued on treatment and were reassessed at week 12. Those who had an early virological response (EVR) - an undetectable viral load or a drop in viral load to less than 1% of pre-treatment viral load at week 12 - were randomised to receive either 48 or 72 weeks of therapy. Those who did not have an EVR continued treatment for 72 weeks.

The study found that 77% ‘super-responders in the study achieved sustained virological response. Patients who did not have an EVR were highly unlikely to achieve an SVR (only 4% did so) even after 72 weeks of treatment.