Background: Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in patients with cirrhosis is difficult to treat. In patients with chronic hepatitis C but without cirrhosis, once-weekly administration of interferon modified by the attachment of a 40-kd branched-chain polyethylene glycol moiety (peginterferon alfa-2a) is more efficacious than a regimen of unmodified interferon. We examined the efficacy and safety of peginterferon alfa-2a in patients with HCV-related cirrhosis or bridging fibrosis.
Methods: We randomly assigned 271 patients with cirrhosis or bridging fibrosis to receive subcutaneous treatment with 3 million units of interferon alfa-2a three times weekly (88 patients), 90 microg of peginterferon alfa-2a once weekly (96), or 180 microg of peginterferon alfa-2a once weekly (87). Treatment lasted 48 weeks and was followed by a 24-week follow-up period. We assessed efficacy by measuring HCV RNA and alanine aminotransferase and by evaluating liver-biopsy specimens. A histologic response was defined as a decrease of at least 2 points on the 22-point Histological Activity Index.
Results: In an intention-to-treat analysis, HCV RNA was undetectable at week 72 in 8 percent, 15 percent, and 30 percent of the patients treated with interferon alfa-2a and with 90 microg and 180 microg of peginterferon alfa-2a, respectively (P=0.001 for the comparison between 180 microg of peginterferon alfa-2a and interferon alfa-2a). At week 72, alanine aminotransferase concentrations had normalized in 15 percent, 20 percent, and 34 percent of patients, respectively (P=0.004 for the comparison between 180 microg of peginterferon alfa-2a and interferon alfa-2a). In the subgroup of 184 patients with paired liver-biopsy specimens, the rates of histologic response at week 72 were 31 percent, 44 percent, and 54 percent, respectively (P=0.02 for the comparison between 180 microg of peginterferon alfa-2a and interferon alfa-2a). All three treatments were similarly tolerated.
Conclusions: In patients with chronic hepatitis C and cirrhosis or bridging fibrosis, 180 microg of peginterferon alfa-2a administered once weekly is significantly more effective than 3 million units of standard interferon alfa-2a administered three times weekly.