Background: The efficacy of interferon-alpha (IFN) induction in combination with ribavirin for chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is not known.
Methods: A total of 256 treatment-naive HCV RNA-positive patients with biopsy-confirmed chronic hepatitis were enrolled in a randomized multicentre study. The patients received either standard combination therapy with 3 MIU interferon-alpha2b thrice weekly for 26 weeks or 6 MIU interferon-alpha2b daily for 4 weeks and 3 MIU 3/7 days for 22 weeks. All patients received ribavirin 1000 mg or 1200 mg (weight dependent) daily during the 26-week treatment period. Patients were monitored for HCV RNA during and following treatment.
Results: The sustained virological response rates (26 weeks after end of treatment) were 54% and 47% for patients receiving IFN induction/ribavirin and standard IFN/ribavirin, respectively (P = 0.35). Among patients infected with genotype 1a/1b, the sustained response rates were 32% and 35%. In patients infected with genotype 2b/3a IFN induction/ribavirin led to a sustained response rate of 80% as compared to 65% in the standard combination therapy group (P = 0.073). Steatosis was more frequently seen in liver biopsies from patients infected with genotype 3a as compared to genotypes la/lb. Among genotype 1a/1b infected patients. steatosis was a highly significant predictor of failure to achieve sustained virological response. Logistic regression analysis (multivariate analysis) showed that independent predictors of sustained virological response were low age, female gender, genotype 2b/3a and HCV RNA negativity at 2 weeks.
Conclusions: IFN induction in combination with ribavirin does not increase the sustained virological response rate among patients infected with HCV. Absence of steatosis is an independent predictor of sustained virological response in patients infected with genotypes 1a/1b.