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Abstract

Telaprevir (VX-950) is an orally active, specifically targeted antiviral therapy for hepatitis C virus (HCV) that has been shown to profoundly reduce plasma HCV RNA in genotype 1 patients. Using a highly sensitive sequencing assay that detects minor populations of viral variants (≥5%), mutations were identified that conferred low-level (V36M/A, T54A, or R155K/T) or high-level (A156V/T and 36/155) resistance to telaprevir in vitro. We report a detailed kinetic analysis of these variants in 16 patients given telaprevir or telaprevir + pegylated interferon–alpha-2a (PEG-IFN–alpha-2a) for 14 days. In 4 patients who had a viral rebound on telaprevir alone, the R155K/T and A156V/T variants were detected during the initial steep decline in HCV RNA. During the rebound phase, the R155K/T and A156V/T variants were replaced by V36(M/A)/R155(K/T) double mutant variants. In the remaining 12 patients given telaprevir alone or with telaprevir/PEG-IFN–alpha-2a, the A156V/T variant was detected in some patients, but viral levels continued to decline in all patients. Conclusion: These studies suggest that the initial antiviral response to telaprevir is due to a sharp reduction in wild-type virus, which uncovers pre-existing telaprevir-resistant variants. In patients given telaprevir alone, viral rebound can result from the selection of variants with greater fitness. However, the combination of telaprevir and PEG-IFN–alpha-2a inhibited both wild-type and resistant variants. In the present study, every patient who began PEG-IFN–alpha-2a and ribavirin after the 14-day dosing period had undetectable HCV RNA levels at 24 weeks, indicating that telaprevir-resistant variants are sensitive to PEG-IFN–alpha-2a and ribavirin. (HEPATOLOGY 2007.)