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Pegasys Approved in Taiwan for HBV
  "New drug seen good in treating hepatitis B"
Doctors from Chung Gung Memorial Hospital yesterday announced that the newest generation of treatment for hepatitis, called Pegasys, will be covered under the national insurance as of today. In Taiwan, hepatitis is a serious problem affecting 3 million people and ranking 6th among the top 10 causes of death. "If untreated, hepatitis will lead to the hardening of the liver, and eventually cancer," said Chien Rong-nan chief of the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hepato-Gastroenterology at Chung Gung Memorial Hospital in Keelung. Pegasys, produced by the Swiss company Roche, is injected into the patient once a week. According to Chien, it boosts the immune system and counters the virus in the bloodstream.
2005-11-01 / Taiwan News, Staff Reporter / By Jenny W. Hsu Local doctors called attention yesterday to a relatively new drug that they believe treats hepatitis B more effectively than any other product on the market and hope will stem the growing toll the disease has taken on Taiwan's residents.
The main component of the drug, called Pegasys, is pegylated interferon, the man-made form of interferon - a chemical naturally produced by the body to fight viruses.
Chien Rong-nan, chief of the Hepto-gastroenterology Division of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, said yesterday that hepatitis B has become the sixth leading cause of death in Taiwan, taking approximately 10,000 lives each year.
"Many people do not realize they are hepatitis B carriers because the disease does not display any symptoms until it becomes severe," Chien said. "Without proper and speedy treatment, many patients will have liver damage, which can lead to liver cancer."
Chien also pointed out that in Taiwan, the disease is most frequently transmitted from mother to child, in contrast with other countries where the main form of transmission is through unprotected sex, needle sharing, or any other contact where bodily fluids are exchanged.
In the past, hepatitis patients have had the choice between ingesting tablets on a daily basis or having an injection three times a week. With the new treatment, patients only have to endure the needle once a week.
Dr. Hsu Wei-chao said that the relatively new treatment, which has yet to gain prominence in Taiwan, acts both as an anti-viral medication and autoimmune system regulator.
"This way, the body can continue to fight off the virus after the treatment program stops," said Hsu. "The normal treatment program usually lasts approximately six to 12 months, depending on the severity of the condition for individual patients."
Studies have also shown that in most patients, the drug's effect can last up to one year after the treatment, Hsu said.
However Pegasys can have many side effects such as headaches, fever, hair loss, reduction of white blood cells and blood platelets, decrease in appetite, and even depression.
"Since the drug can induce depression in about five percent of patients, doctors have to carefully assess the mental and emotional stability of the patients before they prescribe the drug," said Hsu.
Chien recommended that the families of patients were actively involved in the treatment process. "If the family members detect any uncharacteristic behavior, they must consult their doctor immediately," Chien added.
Produced by Roche, Pegasys is not suitable for pregnant women or those who hope to get pregnant in the near future, and breastfeeding mothers.
Pegasys will be covered by the national health insurance plan beginning tomorrow.
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