Background: alpha-Interferon-2a (IFNalpha) alone is a therapy of limited proven benefit for non-uremic patients with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. In dialyzed patients, such an effect is suggested on small short-term studies without sufficient clinical and virologic follow-up to document any sustained effect.
Protocol: Twelve chronically hemodialyzed patients with chronic hepatitis C and waiting for renal transplantation were included in a prospective open study of treatment with IFNalpha. We used, as did others, doses of 3 million units (MU), three times a week, but for a longer period of treatment of 12 months. Follow-up was continued for 6 months after the end of IFNalpha in order to document any sustained biochemical, virological and histological responses.
Results: Aminotransferase levels returned to the normal range within 1-2 months of treatment in all patients in whom they had been elevated at baseline. At 1 month of treatment, serum HCV-RNA was not detected in 5 (41%) patients and in 9 (75%) at 12 months. A sustained virological response was documented in 4 (33%) patients 6 months after the end of treatment. Relapse occurred in 5 patients within 2 months after IFNalpha withdrawal. HCV genotype was not predictive of any sustained response. At inclusion, using the histologic Metavir scoring system, half of the patients had low-grade cytolytic activity and none had cirrhosis. After IFNalpha, liver biopsy specimens were available from 9 patients and showed histologic improvement in 3. IFNalpha tolerance was poor, inducing a 5% mean weight loss and the acute rejection of two nonfunctioning kidney grafts.
Conclusion: This study documents that administration of IFNalpha at 3 MU three times a week, for 12 months, in hemodialysis patients with chronic hepatitis C was efficient for clearing the serum of HCV-RNA in 75% of the patients. A sustained response was maintained in one third of these patients after cessation of IFNalpha, and was predicted by the early serum clearance of the virus within the first 2 months of treatment. We confirm that a 12-month treatment period carries a higher sustained response rate than shorter treatment periods. These encouraging results call for larger studies in uremic patients, using IFNalpha alone or in association with new antiviral drugs.
Copyright 2001 S. Karger AG, Basel