Background: A sustained virological response (SVR) rate of 41% has been achieved with interferon alfa-2b plus ribavirin therapy of chronic hepatitis C. In this randomised trial, peginterferon alfa-2b plus ribavirin was compared with interferon alfa-2b plus ribavirin.
Methods: 1530 patients with chronic hepatitis C were assigned interferon alfa-2b (3 MU subcutaneously three times per week) plus ribavirin 1000-1200 mg/day orally, peginterferon alfa-2b 1.5 microg/kg each week plus 800 mg/day ribavirin, or peginterferon alfa-2b 1.5 microg/kg per week for 4 weeks then 0.5 microg/kg per week plus ribavirin 1000-1200 mg/day for 48 weeks. The primary endpoint was the SVR rate (undetectable hepatitis C virus [HCV] RNA in serum at 24-week follow-up). Analyses were based on patients who received at least one dose of study medication.
Findings: The SVR rate was significantly higher (p=0.01 for both comparisons) in the higher-dose peginterferon group (274/511 [54%]) than in the lower-dose peginterferon (244/514 [47%]) or interferon (235/505 [47%]) groups. Among patients with HCV genotype 1 infection, the corresponding SVR rates were 42% (145/348), 34% (118/349), and 33% (114/343). The rate for patients with genotype 2 and 3 infections was about 80% for all treatment groups. Secondary analyses identified bodyweight as an important predictor of SVR, prompting comparison of the interferon regimens after adjusting ribavirin for bodyweight (mg/kg). Side-effect profiles were similar between the treatment groups.
Interpretation: In patients with chronic hepatitis C, the most effective therapy is the combination of peginterferon alfa-2b 1.5 microg/kg per week plus ribavirin. The benefit is mostly achieved in patients with HCV genotype 1 infections.