Interferon alpha for chronic hepatitis D

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Dec 7;2011(12):CD006002. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006002.pub2.


Background: Hepatitis D virus is a small defective RNA virus that requires the presence of hepatitis B virus infection to infect a person. Hepatitis D is a difficult-to-treat infection. Several clinical trials have been published on the efficacy of interferon alpha for hepatitis D virus (HDV) infection. However, there are few randomised trials evaluating the effects of interferon alpha, and it is difficult to judge any benefit of this intervention from the individual trials.

Objectives: To evaluate the beneficial and harmful effects of interferon alpha for patients with chronic hepatitis D.

Search methods: We identified relevant for the review randomised clinical trials by electronic searches in the Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group Controlled Trials Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) in The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Science Citation Index Expanded until May 2011. We also checked the bibliographic references of identified randomised trials, textbooks, and review articles in order to find randomised trials not identified by the electronic searches.

Selection criteria: Randomised clinical trials evaluating interferon alpha versus placebo or no intervention for patients with chronic hepatitis D infection.

Data collection and analysis: Two authors assessed the trials and extracted data on mortality, virologic, biochemical, and histological response as well as adverse events at end of treatment and six months or more after completing treatment. The analyses were performed using the intention-to-treat principle including all randomised participants irrespective of follow-up. Drop-outs, withdrawals, and non-compliance were considered as treatment failures. Data were analysed with fixed- and random-effects models. Reported results were based on fixed-effect model except in cases where statistical significance varied between the two models.

Main results: Six randomised trials fulfilled the inclusion criteria. Two hundred and one randomised participants (male = 174) were included. The risk of bias in all the included trials was high. Five trials compared interferon alpha with no treatment in the control group. One of these trials had two treatment arms with a higher dose and lower dose of interferon alpha and a no-treatment control group. We analysed both treatment regimens as a single group in a primary analysis and as separate groups in the subgroup analysis of different interferon dosages. The sixth trial compared only a higher dose of interferon alpha with a lower dose.Meta-analysis of five trials comparing interferon alpha with no-treatment control group included 169 participants. There were seven drop-outs in the treatment group and nine in the control group. One patient out of 92 (1.1%) died in the interferon alpha group compared with zero out of 77 (0.0%) in the no-intervention control group (risk ratio (RR)) 3.00; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.14 to 66.5). Interferon alpha led to failure of end of treatment virological response in 62/92 (67.4%) of the patients compared with 71/77 (92.2%) in the untreated controls (RR 0.76, 95% CI 0.66 to 0.87, P = 0.0001 by fixed-effect model and RR 0.71, 95% CI 0.43 to 1.16, P = 0.17 by random-effects model). Failure of normalisation of alanine aminotransferase (ALT) at the end of treatment was seen in 60/92 (65.2%) patients treated with interferon alpha versus 76/77 (98.7%) in the control group (RR 0.69, 95% CI 0.59 to 0.80, P < 0.00001). Sustained virological response was not achieved in 76/92 (82.6%) of patients on interferon compared with 73/77 (94.8%) of controls (RR 0.89, 95% CI 0.80 to 0.98, P = 0.02). Serum alanine aminotransferase was abnormal in 81/92 (88.0%) treated with interferon alpha patients at six months post-treatment follow-up compared with 76/77 (98.7%) in controls (RR 0.92, 95% CI 0.84 to 0.99, P = 0.04). There was no significant histological improvement in 67/92 (72.8%) patients treated with interferon alpha compared with 65/77 (84.4%) in controls (RR 0.86, 95% CI 0.74 to 1.00, P = 0.06).Two trials comparing a higher dose of interferon alpha with the lower dose showed no significant difference in sustained virological response (76.7% compared with 90.0%) (RR 0.85, 95% CI 0.68 to 1.07, P = 0.16). Adverse events such as flu-like symptoms, asthenia, weight loss, alopecia, thrombocytopenia, and leukopenia were reported in all these trials and the adverse events were related to interferon alpha. These were common and sometimes severe. One patient in the treatment group was reported to have died by suicide towards the end of the study period.

Authors' conclusions: Interferon alpha does not seem to cure hepatitis D in most patients. The agent seems effective in suppressing viral and liver disease activity in some patients, but this improvement is not sustained in the majority of patients. We cannot exclude overestimation of benefits and underestimation of harms due to high risk of bias (systematic errors) and high risk play of chance (random errors). Therefore, more randomised trials with large sample sizes and less risk of bias are needed before interferon can be recommended or refuted.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / adverse effects
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Hepatitis D, Chronic / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Interferon-alpha / adverse effects
  • Interferon-alpha / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Interferon-alpha