Background & aims: Patients with chronic hepatitis C who do not respond rapidly to therapy have a low chance of developing a sustained virologic response (SVR) when treated for 48 weeks. This study investigated whether treatment for 72 weeks increases the rate of SVR in patients with detectable hepatitis C virus (HCV)-RNA levels at week 4 of treatment.
Methods: A total of 510 treatment-naive patients were treated with peginterferon-alfa2a (180 microg/wk) plus ribavirin (800 mg/day). Patients with detectable HCV-RNA levels at week 4 (n = 326) were randomized to complete 48 (group A, n = 165) or 72 weeks (group B, n = 161) of treatment. Patients with undetectable HCV-RNA levels at week 4 (n = 184) were allocated into group C (n = 148) or group D (n = 36), according to HCV genotype and baseline viremia, and treated for 24 or 48 weeks, respectively. All patients were followed-up for 24 weeks after the end of treatment.
Results: The end-of-treatment response rate (61%) was similar in groups A and B, but the SVR rate was higher in group B (45% vs 32% in A; P = .01). In genotype 1-infected patients randomized to group A (n = 149) or B (n = 142), SVR rates were 28% and 44%, respectively (P = .003). The incidence of adverse events was similar in all groups. Treatment discontinuation was more frequent in group B (36%) than in group A (18%) (P = .0004). SVR rates in groups C and D were 79% and 64%, respectively.
Conclusions: Extension of treatment with peginterferon-alfa2a plus ribavirin from 48 to 72 weeks significantly increases the rate of SVR in patients with detectable viremia at week 4 of treatment.