Background: Pilot studies suggested that more patients with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection had a sustained virological response when treated with the combination of interferon alpha-2b and ribavirin than with interferon alpha-2b alone. We investigated the biochemical and virological responses and safety of treatment with interferon alpha-2b and ribavirin compared with interferon alpha-2b alone.
Methods: In this double-blind trial 100 patients were randomly assigned to treatment with interferon alpha-2b (3 MU three times a week) in combination with ribavirin (1000 or 1200 mg per day) or placebo for 24 weeks and then followed up for a further 24 weeks. A further follow-up was done 1 year after active treatment stopped. The primary endpoint was the sustained virological response, defined as no detectable HCV RNA by PCR at both week 24 and week 48. Retrospectively, the baseline HCV-RNA load was analysed as a predictor of a sustained virological response. Data were analysed by intention to treat.
Findings: 18 (36%) of the 50 patients in the interferon alpha-2b and ribavirin group had a sustained virological response compared with nine (18%) of the 50 patients in the interferon alpha-2b and placebo group (p = 0.047). At the 1 year follow-up the proportion of patients with a virological response was greater in the interferon alpha-2b and ribavirin group than the interferon alpha-2b and placebo group (42 vs 20%, p = 0.03), respectively. More patients with baseline HCV-RNA concentrations greater than 3 x 10(6) genome equivalents (Eq) per mL had a sustained response with interferon alpha-2b and ribavirin than with interferon alpha-2b and placebo (12/29 vs 1/26, p = 0.009), whereas the sustained response did not differ between the two treatment groups for HCV-RNA amounts less than 3 x 10(6) Eq per mL (6/21 vs 8/24, p = 0.67), respectively.
Interpretation: More patients with chronic hepatitis C have a sustained virological response with interferon alpha-2b and ribavirin than with only interferon alpha-2b treatment. We suggest that patients with high HCV-RNA loads should be treated with interferon alpha-2b and ribavirin.