I am a 57-year-old white American male infected with Hepatitis C. I am involved in a controlled medical research study by Roche Pharmaceuticals of an experimental Polymerase Inhibitor (RO5024048 also known as RG7128) drug therapy for the virus. This document is the story of my illness and the experience of treatment. My lovely and pretty damn wonderful wife will be contributing her take on the experience as well.

Monday, April 19, 2010

New Developments in Roche RO5024048 Combination Treatment Drug Trial

I went in last Friday for my week 18 tests. Before we started the usual blood draws, EKG and vital signs routine, there was a new development. There is a change to the study protocols that required signing a new consent form. There had been a previous, minor, change that necessitated my signing a one-sheet addendum to the original consent form, but this change involved major changes and resulted in my having to agree to changes throughout the agreement. The new protocol is very good news for the safety of the drug and offers an additional chance for study under-responders.

What is happening is that Roche is adding another treatment arm to the study. In this arm “The safety and efficacy of open-label HCV polymerase inhibitor Prodrug (RO5024048) in combination with PEG-INF and RBV in the subset of patients who only received currently approved combination of SOC in the main study and who did not demonstrate an early virologic response (Treatment Failures) will be evaluated.” What this means is that the people in the arm of the study that received the SOC (pegylated interferon and ribavirin) and did not receive the experimental drug and who did not have a log 210 reduction in virus after 12 weeks or who had virus still in the blood after 24 weeks and thus had to stop taking all medications will get a shot at receiving the full triple-drug therapy.

The new arm (Group F) will take RO5024048 1000mg twice daily for 24 weeks in combination with the SOC of weekly Pegasys (interferon) and daily Copegus (ribavirin), followed by an additional 24 weeks of the SOC (Pegasys and Copegus). The study will be open-label meaning patients and doctors will know the medications they are receiving.

The best aspect of this new arm being added to the study is that the folks who were in the placebo arm of the original study and did not respond, now have a shot at getting a drug whose initial results against the HCV virus are very positive. One of the problems with experimental studies, particularly early stage studies, is that there is always an arm of the study that does not receive the experimental drug and thus you are potentially both entering a difficult treatment process and giving up your treatment-naïve status and not getting anything but the treatment you would have received outside of the study. Here, even the folks in the placebo arm who did not respond, will get a chance to attack their Hep C with cutting-edge treatment.

The other positive news is that the safety issues they were testing for regarding possible kidney damage have shown themselves to be of lesser importance. One of the reasons they are adding this arm to the study, I was told by my research coordinator, was that the kidney problems were not showing up in the test subjects so far in the study. That is one of the reasons that the length of treatment in the Group F arm will be extended to 24 weeks from the 12 weeks of treatment the rest of the study arms received. The researchers believe they can give the drug for longer periods without undue fear of kidney damage.

There is another potential development in the study as well. There is a petition in front of the study governors to allow test subjects in the low dose arm (Group A) of the study who had rebounds in their HCV Viral Load amounts to join the Group F arm as well. Group A received 500mg of RO5024048 twice a day, the other arms receiving the experimental drug either received higher doses (1000mg twice daily) or a more concentrated dose (1000mg once daily). There is apparently some thought that the dose in Group A might not have been powerful enough to have the desired effect on the virus and that by including those patients in Group F, they would find out if a higher dose had the desired effect even on people who had been already treated with the RO5024048.

The developments in the trial seem all to the positive to me. People who did not respond to the SOC placebo treatment, get a chance to actually receive the experimental triple-drug therapy, the kidney damage issues seem to be less of a concern than originally thought and finally even those who did not respond to a low dose of the drug might get a chance to see if a high dose can smack down their Hep C.

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