Background & aims: The treatment of patients infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) type 1 remains a challenge necessitating innovative strategies to improve treatment outcome. The extension of treatment duration beyond 48 weeks is one possible strategy to address this problem.
Methods: The efficacy and safety of 48 weeks (group A, N = 230) vs 72 weeks (group B, N = 225) of treatment with pegylated-interferon-alfa-2a (180 microg/wk) plus ribavirin (800 mg/day) were studied in treatment-naive patients with HCV type 1 infection. On-treatment and sustained virologic response (SVR) 24 weeks after stopping treatment was assessed by qualitative reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (sensitivity 50 IU/mL).
Results: Overall, no significant differences could be observed in the treatment outcome between both groups. End-of-treatment and SVR rates in groups A and B were 71% vs 63% and 53% vs 54%, respectively. Patients with undetectable HCV-RNA levels already at weeks 4 and 12 had excellent SVR rates ranging from 76% to 84% regardless of treatment group, whereas patients shown to be still HCV-RNA positive at week 12 achieved significantly higher SVR rates when treated for 72 instead of 48 weeks (29% vs 17%, P = .040). A particular benefit from extended treatment duration was seen in patients with low-level viremia (<6000 IU/mL) at week 12. The frequency and intensity of adverse events was similar between the 2 groups.
Conclusions: Extended treatment duration generally is not recommended in HCV type 1 infection and should be reserved only for patients with slow virologic response defined as HCV-RNA positive at week 12 but negative at week 24.