Background and methods: Chronic hepatitis B is a common and often progressive liver disorder for which there is no accepted therapy. To assess the efficacy of treatment with interferon, we randomly assigned patients with chronic hepatitis B to one of the following regimens: prednisone for 6 weeks followed by 5 million units of recombinant interferon alfa-2b daily for 16 weeks; placebo followed by 5 million units of interferon daily for 16 weeks; placebo followed by 1 million units of interferon daily for 16 weeks; or observation with no treatment.
Results: Hepatitis B e antigen and hepatitis B viral DNA disappeared from serum significantly more often in the patients given prednisone plus interferon (16 of 44 patients, or 36 percent) or 5 million units of interferon alone (15 of 41; 37 percent) than in the untreated controls (3 of 43; 7 percent; P less than 0.001); the difference between those given 1 million units of interferon (7 of 41; 17 percent) and the controls was not significant. The strongest independent predictor of a response to treatment was the amount of hepatitis B viral DNA in serum at entry (P less than 0.0001). Of the 38 patients who responded to interferon, 33 (87 percent) had normal serum aminotransferase levels after therapy; 11 patients who responded (29 percent), but no controls, lost the hepatitis B surface antigen. Blinded histologic assessment revealed a significant improvement in periportal necrosis in the treated patients (P = 0.03).
Conclusions: In chronic hepatitis B, treatment with interferon alfa-2b (5 million units per day for 16 weeks) was effective in inducing a sustained loss of viral replication and achieving remission, assessed biochemically and histologically, in over a third of patients. Moreover, in about 10 percent of the patients treated with interferon, hepatitis B surface antigen disappeared from serum.