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Study Finds New Drug For Common Liver Disease Promising

Update Date: Nov 07, 2014 09:25 AM EST

A newly developed experimental drug aimed at treating a common liver disease has shown promising results, according to a new study. 

The study found that people with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) who took obeticholic acid had improved liver health during that period. The improvement included decrease in inflammation and fat in the liver and decreased body weight versus people receiving a placebo. OCA was also found to increase itching and total cholesterol. 

"NASH is a common and potentially serious disease that currently has no approved treatment. Management typically includes weight loss through diet and exercise," said Averell Sherker, M.D., NIDDK program official for the NASH Clinical Research Network (NASH CRN), which performed the FLINT study, in the press release.

According to study findings, liver health improved in 45 percent of people on OCA versus 21 percent of the placebo group. 

"Although obeticholic acid did not eliminate liver disease in FLINT participants, it demonstrated a promising effect. Larger studies will be required to determine the drug's safety and efficacy," Sherker said. 

"The FLINT trial represents an important advance in the search for treatments of NASH. The causes of NASH are not fully understood, and causes and treatments may be different among patients," added the study's lead author, Brent Neuschwander-Tetri, M.D., a professor at St. Louis University, in the press release. "We need to study the changes in cholesterol levels more to know if the increases caused by obeticholic acid increase the risk of hardening of the arteries. We found that the improvement in liver enzymes with obeticholic acid were not sustained after treatment was stopped, so we would expect that treatment would need to be indefinite, much like the medications for diabetes and hypertension."

NASH is the third leading diagnosis requiring U.S. liver transplantation.

The findings of the study were published in the journal The Lancet.

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