Background: Cytomegalovirus retinitis, a sight-threatening infection associated with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), currently requires lifelong intravenous treatment. An effective oral treatment would be an important advance.
Methods: We compared oral with intravenous ganciclovir in an open-label, randomized study in patients with AIDS and newly diagnosed, stable cytomegalovirus retinitis (the disease was stabilized by three weeks of treatment with intravenous ganciclovir). Sixty subjects were randomly assigned to maintenance therapy with intravenous ganciclovir at a dose of 5 mg per kilogram of body weight daily, and 63 to maintenance therapy with oral ganciclovir at a dose of 3000 mg daily. The subjects were followed for up to 20 weeks, with photography of the fundi conducted every other week. The photographs were evaluated at the completion of the study by an experienced grader who was unaware of the subjects' treatment assignments.
Results: Efficacy could be evaluated in 117 subjects; photographs were ungradable for 2 of the 117. On the basis of the masked assessment of photographs from 115 subjects, the mean time to the progression of retinitis was 62 days in those given intravenous ganciclovir and 57 days in those given oral ganciclovir (P = 0.63; relative risk [oral vs. intravenous], 1.08; 95 percent confidence interval for the difference in means, -22 to +12 days). On the basis of funduscopy by ophthalmologists who were aware of the subjects' treatment assignments, the mean time to progression was 96 days in subjects given intravenous ganciclovir and 68 days in subjects given oral ganciclovir (P = 0.03; relative risk [oral vs. intravenous], 1.68; 95 percent confidence interval for the difference in means, -45 to -11 days). Survival, changes in visual acuity, the incidence of viral shedding, and the incidence of adverse gastrointestinal events were similar in the two groups. Neutropenia, anemia, intravenous-catheter-related adverse events, and sepsis were more common in the group given intravenous ganciclovir.
Conclusions: Oral ganciclovir is safe and effective as maintenance therapy for cytomegalovirus retinitis and is more convenient for patients to take than intravenous ganciclovir.