Hepatitis C Research: What’s a Phase and How Can We Get through it Faster?

Hepatitis C:  Current Research Drugs

Picture your liver at the center of the Milky Way. Now, the swirling stars are treatments, some closer than others.  Drug studies are in orbit like this.  Work with me here.

Your Liver = Center of your universe.

Illustration of the Milky Way by Dianna Marquee

Illustration of the Milky Way by Dianna Marquee

Filed = Closest stars, drugs waiting on FDA approval.  The red tape wheels grind on.

Phase III = Next out, drugs being tested large-scale for safety and efficacy.  Will the virus die before you do?

Phase II = Further away from your liver, drugs shown not to kill  people when tested on a small group of sick patients. Cohort is the word.  This was me during round two of treatment.  Kind of risky here.

Phase I =  Compounds (drugs) that don’t kill healthy people crazy enough to volunteer (broke students and new parolees)

Preclinical =A blur of solar dust = test tube, computer chemical structuring, animal studies. Yep, animal testing.

When I was first diagnosed in 1991 with Hepatitis C, there was only one binary star, Interferon and Ribavirin.  Finally in 2011  came Telaprevir  and Boceprevir. That’s a long time between hits, 20 years.  Now the Hep C universe is almost getting crowded, but not yet.  The issue is safety and timelines.  The barbaric days of Interferon could be phased out (pun intended).

Phases of  Current Drug Research:  Thanks go to Dr Paul Kwo for this slide

Paul Y. Kwo, MD, is Associate Professor of Medicine and Medical Director of Liver Transplantation in the Gastroenterology/Hepatology Division of Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis

Paul Y. Kwo, MD, is Associate Professor of Medicine and Medical Director of Liver Transplantation in the Gastroenterology/Hepatology Division of Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis

So, this slide represents current studies, phases  and the mechanism of action (MOA).  Remember that we want at least two drugs with different MOAs in our bodies to avoid virus mutation and resistance.  The good news is that there are multiple drug candidates in each category.  For further information on any study, go to www.clinicaltrials.gov and enter the drug/compound name.  This site will also tell you if the study is enrolling patients and if there is a location close to you.  This website rocks.  Thank you federal government.

The US research system is business-based, where competition for the patent drives the process.  I’m not completely opposed to this system.  But it does have drawbacks.

Remember when AIDS researchers were competing to isolate the culprit?  France and the US,  it was crazy.  The two groups still argue about whom was first with what.

The HBO movie And The Band Played On documents government and cultural barriers to a disease connected with a cohort that isn’t mainstream, i.e. HIV and homosexual men.  I’m glad the barriers came down a bit faster with Hep C.  Initially the cohort was alcoholics and drug addicts.  But then the target audience became baby boomers.  This was 1. More acceptable and 2. A bigger pool of patients and potential profit.

Obviously the slide above is the star of this blog.    Drug companies race to be first with a new drug(s).  So why am I speaking of other things?  Because I think the days of working in a research vacuum are limited.  American drug companies say this is bad.  They claim without financial incentive, research will dry up.

But, wouldn’t it be great if companies worked together and combined research efforts?  I know, that is a big but.  I like big buts…There are novel initiatives include partnering between governmental organizations and industry. The world’s largest such initiative is the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), and examples of major national initiatives are Top Institute Pharma in the Netherlands and Biopeople in Denmark.  In the USA it could be the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  We used to joke that NIH meant “Not Investigated Here”  meaning that the USA insists on its own research.  Only science types would joke about such topics. No wonder we have a reputation.

Paul Y. Kwo, MD, is Associate Professor of Medicine

Paul Y. Kwo, MD, is Associate Professor of Medicine

Now picture these studies sharing data.  Think of all the time and patient suffering saved by quickly identifying drug-drug and drug-disease interactions.  Think about how the winners would rise to the top.  I don’t care about the political/social overtones.  I am just thinking about patients. This is already happening with cancer research.

I have worked on this blog for a week and still can’t get it right.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virus

http://www.chronicliverdisease.org/COEE/index.cfm?id=PKwo

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug_development

http://voices.yahoo.com/a-summary-film-band-played-on-127287.html

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Hepatitis C Treatment Management: What would Mamaw Do? WWMD?

Mamaw and Papaw’s Wedding Day 1916 Livingston KY

The world of Hepatitis C treatment  is more than taking drugs as scheduled and hoping for virus death.  The bigger part is keeping  your body, mind and soul with you.

  • Diarrhea?  Water and Lomotil I guess, that was never my problem
  • Nausea?  Water, saltines and Phenergan
  • Constipation?  Water and stool softener.  Even the name is too gross.  Kinda like mud-butt
  • Mouth Sores?  Water then swish and spit Mylanta.  Happy to spit
  • Food taste like pennies? Water and floss, floss, floss, brush, brush, brush.  Still doesn’t help
  • Flu symptoms for six months?  Water then alternate Tylenol and Advil for six months.  Exercise: yeah, right
  • Rash? Benadryl oral and topical.  Maybe hydrocortisone/vaseline
  • Insomnia?  Ambien if you are lucky.  Benadryl if you are unlucky, it adds to constipation and taste of pennies.  Don’t drink water before bed
  • Depression? Water and SSRIs/SNRIs/antipsychotics/and on-and-on in couplets
  • Too tired to work?   Adderall if  the shaking won’t vibrate your loose screws
  • Can’t go on?  Cry really hard, take Advil, drink water and go on.

My Mamaw had eleven children in Eastern Kentucky  starting in 1917.  There was no doctor, drug store or money.  She lost two baby boys, one to the Spanish Flu.  When she came out of delirium, baby Bentley was already buried.

If an artery spurted, she applied coal soot.  Got a burn?  First well water (cold) then let egg white dry on burn or apply a slice of onion.  Step on a nail?  Clean and soak with turpentine.   Pneumonia?  Inhale kerosene (dosing was tough) through a moist cloth and put a mustard plaster on your chest.  It will kill you or cure you.  I never witnessed this  one.  Croup?  Make a sheet tent over the steam kettle, put in Vick’s and then hold the child under the tent.  If that treatment doesn’t work, sugar with a drop of kerosene. Give a few drops of whiskey if you got it.

a dose of pee

Here’s what applied to us grandkids. Pinworms?  Check rectum at night with a flashlight then give all the kids a stinky medicine that I think had tobacco in it.   Earache?  Warm up pee in a teaspoon a little more than body temp  and pour it in your ear. Stick in a plug of quilting. I would hide in the cedar closet  as long as I could before telling Mamaw.  I made her use my pee.  Here is the thing: it worked. Pee is sterile upon leaving the urinary tract.  Of course I knew nothing of a “clean catch”.  Collection was easier when we got an indoor bathroom.  You figure it out.  When I checked the internet for possible mechanisms of action (MOA) of the pee, there was a claim that urine is an antifungal.  Of course on the internet you can probably find a claim that golf balls extract is good for an earache too.  I made that up.

Mamaw’s rocker and sock monkey

What would Mamaw do about Hepatitis C treatment management?  Probably just rock me and say “Doggone it.  It’ll get better.”    I have her rocker in my house.  It sure is smaller than I remember.  Anyway,  it doesn’t really work without her.

Hepatitis C: Does “No Detectable Virus” Equal Cure Or Is It Smoke?

Am I cured or is it just smoke?

Hepatitis C cure?

 If my hepatitis C virus test shows non-detectable virus 6 months after the end of treatment, am I negative?  Will I  stay negative?  Am I cured?  In the recent past only “non-detectable virus” was declared. Now doctors are adding “cure” to the jargon.  This is with the addition of Incivek and Victrelis, and depending on the discussion.  No two clinical trials are alike and so Hepatitis C researchers use (they say utilize) sustained viralogical response (SVR) to compare outcomes.  Most trial design is by the company developing the drug.  One goal is to ask the study questions just right to get scientific and marketable answers.  “GodZillapravir had a non-detectable  SVR at weeks 12 and 24 in 85% of patients including those with mild to moderate cirrhosis”. “KingKongViracide cleared Hepatitis C virus in 94% of patients at 24 weeks including children 12 to 18 years of age”.  Which is the better drug?  You can’t tell by the claims because two different patient populations and time lines .  But they have  SVR in common.  That is why researchers use SVR.  BTW I made up the examples.  Now don’t get down on industry just yet.  Academics are accountable to department heads and medical journals.  That can be as powerful as a stockholder.

Industry is different: Stock holders in towers

When it comes to patients , the word “Cure” has emerged because research shows that if you have no detectable virus after six months, the chances of Hep C returning is about 1-2%.  And the argument is that it was never cleared, just so low that it was undetectable.

So with Hepatitis what does this mean?

Successful treatment for Hepatitis C hasn’t been available for long, so doctors are just starting to understand the long-term outcomes.  Do cancer survivors say cured?  I think they say  cancer-free for 2 years, 5 years, etc.  Am I a Hepatitis C survivor or am I cured?  Is it still a pre-existing condition?   A research site, not insurance, paid for my treatments.  But my medical records say Hepatitis C.

So at 24 weeks can I tell the insurance company that I no longer have Hepatitis C?  I can’t find the answer to that question without talking to them directly. I will wait until 2014 (I think that is the year) when they cannot cancel me for pre-existing conditions.  Insurance politics are so confusing, I am not clear if that stipulation is on the potential chopping block.  In speaking with my mental  Dr, I realize that I do not have confidence in my treatment and I am waiting for it to come back.  I am at 4 1/2 months post treatment.   I have been Hep C positive for so long, I don’t know how to have a future in which chronic debilitating illness isn’t a key player.  What is the world like with only mild hypertension and chronic but manageable depression?

Below is a good article for defining end-of-treatment terms, although it is a bit dated.  Newer drugs are not addressed but the terms are the same.

 Hepatitis C: What Is a Sustained Virologic Response or “SVR”? (From Charles  Daniel, former About.com GuideSVR) 

SVR is the closest you’ll get to “a cure” for hepatitis C.
 Sustained virologic response, or SVR, is the goal of hepatitis C treatment.  Conventional treatment (a combination of interferon and ribavirin) doesn’t  necessarily eliminate the hepatitis C virus from your liver. It can, however,  suppress the virus to undetectable levels for an extended period of time. In clinical language, this is called a “sustained virologic response,” or sustained  response. It means that during the six months after you complete treatment,  there is no detectable hepatitis C virus in your blood.                                         SVR is a good thing.
Studies have shown that with a six-month SVR (which means no detectable virus in your blood for six months after finishing treatment), relapse occurred in only 1-2% of patients. So, for every 100 people who finished treatment and attained SVR, the virus will return in only 2 of them. However, for these people, the
virus never really left. The medicine was able to eliminate most of the virus (so much that medical tests couldn’t detect it), but after treatment ended, for whatever reason the virus was able to continue replicating itself.

Early SVR is beneficial
Since the liver has incredible regenerative ability, achieving SVR
 as quickly as possible is important. This is important because some liver damage can be reversed if the cause of the damage is removed. After SVR is reached and depending on the degree of damage from the virus, the risk of hepatocellular cancer is reduced and about 25% of people see an improvement in fibrosis.

SVR compares one treatment to another. For those in treatment, SVR is the goal. However, for physicians and scientists researching new hepatitis treatments, SVR is also used to evaluate new medicines and compare them with proven therapies.
 For example, depending on the genotype, treatment with interferon alone usually achieves SVR in 15% of the patients. When interferon is combined with ribavirin in the same genotype, SVR is increased to 70% in some people.

Jana L. Lee, R.N., CCRC Clinical Research Nurse St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital Advanced Liver Therapies, my practical answer source and demon fighter.

http://www.hepcadvocacy.org/factsheets/HepatitisC.pdf

http://hepatitis.about.com/bio/Charles-Daniel-37713.htm

Hepatitis C Now Godzillaprevir and KingKongViracide: Yes but is Interferon Still in the Mix?

GodzillaPrevir

KingkongViracide

No matter how powerful add-on drugs are, if Interferon is still part of the mix, many patients will not be able to finish the treatment.  If I was in early stages of Hepatitis C with minimal liver scarring, I would wait 12-24 months for new treatments sans Interferon.  If my Hepatitis C were more advanced, I would go to www.clinicaltrials.gov and type in my disease and city. (Note disclaimer at end of blog)

Below are “press releases” from companies and are mostly targeted to investors, e.g. The market for treating hepatitis C has burgeoned  (My spellchecker doesn’t recognize this as a word) in the last year.

Always look at the source of medical information, if it is Kiss Your Assets Good-Bye or Liver Heard on the Street, run away. If it is the New England Journal of Medicine, or Gastroenterology proceed with caution and a jaundiced eye.  Oops a hepatitis pun.

Dec 1, 2011 – Novel Hep C Treatment Excludes Peginterferon Alfa By: DENISE NAPOLI, Internal Medicine News Digital Network Therapy with a novel

But then if I didn’t read the business news, I wouldn’t know about this for another couple of days:

Bristol-Myers Drops Hepatitis C Drug After Patient Death

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. has abandoned an experimental hepatitis C pill it bought for $2.5 billion earlier this year after one patient died and others were hospitalized while taking the drug in a study.

                    

Bristol-Myers will take a charge of $1.8 billion in the third quarter related to research and development of the therapy, the New York-based company said in a regulatory filing today. The drugmaker suspended testing the medicine, known as BMS-986094, on Aug. 1 after a patient developed heart failure.

Bristol-Myers said yesterday it has discontinued development of the drug, part of a class of medicines called nucleotide polymerase inhibitors, and was consulting with U.S. regulators to assess the treatment’s effects. Along with the death, eight patients suffered from heart and kidney toxicity, the company said in a statement.

“Bristol-Myers paid a fortune for a pearl that turns out to be fake,” said Erik Gordon, a University of Michigan businessprofessor who follows the health industry, in an e-mail today, referring to the company’s “string of pearls” name for its acquisition strategy. “The Inhibitex acquisition shows the dangers of paying huge premiums for late-stage drug candidates in hot areas. They still can fail.”

I love it:  The dangers of paying huge premiums…Not the dangers of participating in clinical trials. No disrespect to business people, just a different perspective.  I should know, I worked in Big Pharma for twenty-five years.  First make money for share holders, then do no harm to patients.

dictionary.reference.com/browse/inherent existing in someone or something as a permanent and inseparable element, quality, or attribute:

There is inherent risk for patients in clinical trials.  You can quote me on that.

The Hepatitis C Screen Door Swings Two Ways

My father-in-law wanted Viagra.  He wouldn’t shut up about it.  My mother-in-law finally said “Then what?  You’re not getting on me”  eewww, the visual for me….

So we screen for Hepatitis C, then what?

Attention Baby Boomers: The Centers For Disease Control (CDC), the group that tracks bird and swine flu, is thinking about screening you for Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is particularly dangerous because it is a silent killer. It can live for decades in a person’s body, slowly destroying the liver, while causing few symptoms,” said Dr. John Ward, director of the CDC’s division of viral hepatitis.

The new guidelines are expected to identify more than 800,000 infections, prevent 100,000 cases of cirrhosis, prevent more than 50,000 cases of liver cancer, and save more than 120,000 lives. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States.

The relatively inexpensive blood test is “a small investment now for a big benefit later,” Ward said.

The CDC believes routine blood tests will address the largely preventable consequences of the disease, especially in light of newly available therapies that can cure around 75 percent of infections.

The field has attracted broad interest with two new hepatitis C drugs, Incivek from Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc and Merck & Co’s Victrelis, reaching the U.S. market in the past year.

Sorry about the blur, link at bottom if you are interested

Should we screen for Hepatitis C in patients over 50?  There is no vaccine, the standard treatment of Interferon/Ribavirin is about  $60,000 and the eradication rate about 40-50% in the most common genotype (1).  Adding  Boceprevir (Victrelis) is $1,000 a week (x 24 weeks = $24,000). Telaprevir (Incivik) is $4,100 per week (x 24 weeks = $98,000).  So treatment =  $80,000 to $158,000.  They must be really proud of Telaprevir.  At that price they may have to keep it.  All of this assumes 24 week treatment but it is common practice for those on Interferon/Ribavirin to go 48 weeks ($120,000 for dual therapy)

 

These are all rounded numbers and this does not include anything but the drug.  Side effects are horrible.  A few are nausea/vomiting/diarrhea/depression/suicidal and homicidal thoughts/hair loss/anemia/insomnia . The new drugs add full body rash, rectal itching and/or rectal bleeding.  (This reminds me of the old treatments for syphilis: mercury and arsenic).   Many patients cannot hang and drop out. Jobs are lost, families strained and the patients overwhelmed. And then there is that pesky liver transplant for those beyond pharmacologic help (drugs).

But there are currently over 4 million people infected in the US and the largest group are over 50 with long-term damage.  And there are new tests and treatments.  For instance, researchers recently identified a specific DNA sequence in the gene that codes an immune response regulator, called IL28b. Different IL28b sequences predict whether treatment will successfully clear the virus.

With that in mind Goldhaber-Fiebert and Liu of Stanford created a computer model looking for the line at where it makes sense to go through treatment.  Remember that these people think in terms of how many patients out of 1,00 people, not what YOU should do.

After intense statistical and simulation analysis, the model showed that the new triple therapies were indeed cost-effective for chronic hepatitis C patients with advanced liver disease. Despite the large price tag and side effects, the new treatments help these patients avoid costly cancers and liver transplants — as well as allowing them to live longer, higher-quality lives.

For those patients with mild disease, the model indicated that determining their IL-28B genotype is the best next step, before prescribing a treatment.  The closer the threat of severe disease, the more justified treatment costs and risks become, said Goldhaber-Fiebert. “That would be the bottom line.”

Though these new drugs may offer relatively desirable options now, both Goldhaber-Fiebert and Liu noted that additional, and perhaps more effective, drugs are already in clinical trials.”

So in the “State-The-Obvious” department  they conclude: “As more and better treatments become available, the decision will continue to evolve, requiring further analysis, patients and health systems could also benefit from price competition with multiple treatment options available. But ultimately, treatment decisions will remain a private conversation between a doctor and a patient. “

A bit chicken shit but common in the academic world.  All studies end in “Further research is needed”.  Which is academic speak for “See you at the next medical conference where I will have more data”.  Note the reference to “health systems”.  This includes the insurance company.

Now, as a taxpayer, I wonder where the money is coming from. You can see one reason a clinical trial is an attractive option.  I didn’t pay a nickel.  In fact they paid my gas and parking.  BTW my results from 12 week post treatment just came back “No detectable virus”.  So why do I have a trace of cynicism about drug companies pushing for testing?

My mom used to yell, “close the screen door, you are letting the flies out”.  I always thought that was funny. Regarding screening and insurance that may be true but not so funny.

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_125350.html

http://health.yahoo.net/news/s/nm/all-baby-boomers-should-get-tested-for-hepatitis-c-cdc

http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2012/february/hepatitis.html

Partial Responders with Hepatitis C

All Hepatitis C studies are not created equal. Duh

I used to see myself as smarter than the average bear.  Not so much now.

Being me, I was not passive when searching for a Hep C study.  But I was mistaken.   I assumed. Don’t make an assumption.  I knew better.   My mom taught me this.  Every time some of us kids got in trouble, she pulled me aside and said, “You know better”.  It was years before it dawned on me that other kids knew better too.  My mom was once a kid.  In fact she was still a kid when she had me.  In 1951 it was not cool to have a baby out-of-wedlock.  My biological father passed on marriage and she had to go back home to Harlan County, Ky.   This is where I was born.  Papaw told me to say I was from “Bloody Harlan” because of the bloody mine strikes.   So that is what I told my teacher.  Papaw and all Moms’ brothers were coal miners.  We didn’t make moonshine (the other career path)

I learned that the TV show Justified   is about Harlan County.  I don’t watch it myself.  Makes me jumpy.

fig 1.Me, Mom in the white car coat, dad that raised me, Mamaw, Papaw, and aunts. Harlan County, KY. My mom has the big nose like Papaw.  She waited to get a nose job after Papaw died

Coal tipple loads rail road cars 1

When I was a curly headed baby
My daddy sat me down upon his knee
He said, “Boy, you go to school and learn your letters
Don’t you be a dirty miner like me”

I used to think my daddy was a black man
With script enough to buy the company store
Now he goes downtown with empty pockets
And his face is white as a February snow

I was born and raised in the mouth of the Hazard Hollow
Coal cars rambled past my door
Now they’re standin’ in a rusty row all empty
And the L & N
Don’t stop here anymore

http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/The-L-amp-N-Don’t-Stop-Here-Anymore-lyrics-Johnny-Cash/6B378501111ECA5D48256DEA000A5308

I love this song but never heard it until I moved to Texas

Where was I?    Okay brain get back on track.  Let me recommend that you do not have your driver’s license photo taken while on treatment. Very scary.

I chose to participate in a Multi Centered, Randomized, Placebo Controlled, Double Blinded study, evaluating Standard of Care (SOC) Interferon and Ribavirin (which had been my only choice all these years) vs. SOC and telaprevir for round one.  In fact I sought out this study. There were three arms, two with study drug.  I had a 66.7% chance of receiving study drug.  As I learned later, I was not randomized to study drug (telaprevir).  I assumed SOC included addressing anemia and other life threatening events.  In this case, SOC did not include blood transfusions or red blood cell (RBC) stimulant injections such as Procrit.  Standards of care have not caught up to current practices. Step one was to reduce the Ribavirin dose.  .  My hemoglobin (HgB) was 8.9 and the guideline minimum for taking Ribavirin is 10.0. Normal HgB range for females is 11.5-15.8 mg/dL.   My Ribavirin dose was decreased. Hemoglobin got slightly better but I paid for it later by not clearing the virus. In order to treat the anemia I would have to walk away from the study.  Dang it!   I quickly lost the ability to walk down a hallway, climb stairs or lift baggage without major shortness of breath (SOB) and the ability to complete a thought, all necessary for my job (oops, career). More about that later.

After treatment completion, an individual is assessed for response to measure viral load. If there is virus remaining but a reduction of disease by 30% or more  – it is called a partial response.   Partial response (PR) implies further treatment  required.  www.about.com   I moved from treatment naïve to partial responder.  Here I had saved myself for newer treatments but still got the same treatment that was available years ago.  Plus no treatment for the anemia.  How did a smart girl like me get in a dumb box like this?  I hung in there and finished the (long) 48 week trial.  Not only did I not have red blood cells (RBCs) or white blood cells (WBCs), but then the virus that was left was a stronger warrior.   Not good.  Here is the part where my education went out the window.  I was so depressed that I couldn’t function.  Every little thing was monumental.  I should have quit the study when my blood chemistry went to hell.  But I couldn’t think clearly enough to look at the situation logically.  All my decisions were made by a scared little girl.  See fig 1

You know I wanted to blame insurance companies.  It is so easy to blame insurance companies.  I wanted to blame pharmaceutical companies and the FDA.  They are easy targets too.  In reality, I, more than most, understand the study requirements and commitments. Sort of. I have been a research pharmacist for a couple of decades.  The data must be unsullied from outside forces like blood transfusions that will make it impossible to evaluate the toxicity.  That is the point of the study, not patient care.  Don’t misunderstand me.  Patients are well cared for. A patient can get treated without a study but a study cannot evaluate a treatment without patients

FYI, HgB is the molecule in the blood that carries oxygen, (O2) from your lungs to your blood and carbon dioxide (CO2) to your lungs so you can exhale this gas.  Speaking of HgB, it is a bucket brigade that carries water to a fire.  Even if you have plenty of water, if you don’t have enough buckets, the barn burns down.  Wait, that wasn’t a great example.  It wasn’t completely accurate either.  Never mind.  It’s just that I spent all these years learning this stuff; I want to get my money’s worth.  Kurt Vonnegut said only hermaphrodites use a semi colon; .Sort of.  While metaphorically I don’t relate to that, he did say it.   I didn’t pay Kurt Vonnegut, God rest your soul Mr. Rosewater.  Anyway my WORD grammar check said uses it.  I think I paid for that.  Yes of course I did.

Telaprevir (Incivek) and boceprevir (Victrelis) are now available to add to Standard of Care (SOC).  In fact by now they may be a part of SOC.  Glad I contributed to the body of knowledge that is clinical research.  Really I am.  But I wouldn’t repeat round one for nothing, not no way, not no how. It was two years before I was well enough to go for round two of treatment.  My career never recovered.