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Genetic Test Can Predict Who Responds to Hepatitis C Treatment

Posted Aug 27 2009 11:36pm

Important news for people with hepatitis C:  Researchers have pinpointed a gene that seems to strongly influence whether a patient will respond to the current standard therapy, which is peginterferon-alpha-2b (PegIFN-alpha-2b) or -alpha-2a (PegIFN-alpha-2a) combined with ribavirin (RBV). iStock_Liver000004441954XSmall

The gene is called  IL28B and it codes for the immune molecule interferon- lambda -3 . Patients with specific genetic alterations around IL28B are twice as likely to benefit from drug treatment compared to other patients.  And it turns out the “good response gene” is much more common in patients of European ancestry compared to those of African-American ancestry.  That helps to explain why many fewer African-American’s respond to the treatment.

According to a Nature press release: “The findings represent the strongest study of predictors of treatment response to date, and may be of immediate clinical use in the development of a test for those considering treatment for hepatitis C.”

These types of genetic tests are relatively easy to make. There are many laboratories around the world that could conceivable create this test within a few hours.  The important thing, says John Compton of GeneDx is that a finding like this needs to be confirmed in another study before most doctors will consider prescribing it.

But treatment for hepatitis C is ardous:  It usually takes 48 weeks of therapy, and the medicines have potentially serious side effects.  If this test does indeed work, it will be extremely valuable to hepatitis C patients who are considering the standard therapy.

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