Background: Chronic hepatitis C is a major cause of illness and death in the United States. Interferon-alpha 2b can induce clinical, biochemical, and virologic remission in some patients with chronic hepatitis C, but the long-term cost-effectiveness of this treatment, particularly in patients with histologically mild disease, is unknown.
Objective: To estimate the cost-effectiveness of interferon-alpha 2b in mild chronic hepatitis C.
Design: Meta-analysis of five prospective trials and cost-effectiveness analysis. Projection of the clinical and economic outcomes expected from loss of hepatitis C virus was done by using a Markov simulation. The potential effect of uncertainty in the model assumptions was tested by using sensitivity analyses.
Data sources: Search of the MEDLINE database, opinions of expert panels, hospital cost data, and adjusted physician charges.
Patients: Hypothetical cohorts with histologically mild chronic hepatitis C.
Intervention: The model assumed a single 6-month course of recombinant interferon-alpha 2b.
Measurements: Life expectancy, quality-adjusted life expectancy, costs, and marginal cost-effectiveness ratios from a managed care perspective.
Results: In 27% of patients with mild chronic hepatitis C treated with interferon-alpha 2b for 6 months, serum alanine aminotransferase levels permanently returned to normal and viral status remained negative. The model estimated that interferon-alpha 2b treatment in this population should increase life expectancy by 3.1 years if given at 20 years of age, by 1.5 years at 35 years of age, and by 22 days at 70 years of age; discounted marginal cost-effectiveness ratios are $500, $1900, and $62,000 per year of life gained, respectively. Varying the long-term response rates and progression rates for mild and moderate chronic hepatitis to near zero in sensitivity analyses substantially affected the results: Ratios ranged from $31,000 for a 20-year-old patient to $640,000 for a 70-year-old patient.
Conclusions: On the basis of estimations in this mathematical model of the natural history of chronic hepatitis C, treating mild chronic hepatitis with interferon-alpha 2b should prolong life expectancy at a reasonable marginal cost per year of life gained, particularly in younger patients.