Background/Aims: To examine the effect of prolonged treatment with different doses of interferon α-2b on the relapse rate in patients with chronic hepatitis C. Methods: One hundred and seventy-one patients with non- cirrhotic chronic hepatitis C were enrolled in an Italian multicenter trial. All patients were treated for 3 months with 3 000 000 Units (3 MU) of interferon α-2b given subcutaneously three times a week (t.i.w.). Patients with abnormal alanine aminotransferase (ALT) values were given 6 MU of interferon for an additional 3 months. If ALT remained persistently abnormal, therapy was then suspended. If ALT levels were normal, therapy was continued (6 MU t.i.w.) for an additional 18 months (total=2 years). Patients with normal ALT were randomly assigned to two groups, one receiving 3 MU and the other receiving 6 MU t.i.w. for an additional 21 months (total=2 years). Follow-up continued for 2 years after therapy withdrawal. Results: Seven patients stopped treatment during the first 3 months. Of the remaining 164 patients, 76 (46%) showed abnormal ALT levels after 3 months of therapy: 11 of these (14%) normalized ALT values when given 6 MU and a sustained response was maintained in eight during the follow-up. Overall, 54 and 34 patients were allocated respectively to the groups receiving the 3 MU and 6 MU long- term treatment. At the end of therapy, 35/54 patients of the group 3 MU and 21/34 patients of the group 6 MU showed normal ALT levels (65% vs 62%, p=N.S.). After 2 years of follow-up, 24/35 (69%) patients of the group 3 MU and 16/21 (76%) of the group 6 MU were still in remission (p=N.S.). In an intention-to-treat analysis, 48/171 (28%) patients showed a long-term response (normal ALT values, HCV-RNA negative). About 65% of the sustained responders showed low baseline viremia compared with 33% of non-responders (p=0.005) while genotype 1b was more frequently found among non-responders than in long-term responders (84% vs 25%, p=0.0001). Conclusions: About 14% of patients who do not respond to a 3-month course of 3 MU of interferon normalize ALT levels when given 6 MU. In prolonged treatment, there is no significant difference between 3 and 6 MU in inducing a sustained response. Patients with low baseline viremia and genotype 2a respond significantly better to prolonged interferon therapy than highly viremic patients with genotype 1b.
- Chronic hepatitis C
ASJC Scopus subject areas