Aims/background: Response rates to alpha-interferon therapy for chronic hepatitis C are poor. An early indication of efficacy would reduce the need for prolonged therapy, leading to significant cost savings. It was established that a change in quantitative hepatitis C virus RNA (HCV-RNA) titre at 4 weeks could predict the outcome of alpha-interferon therapy in chronic hepatitis C.
Methods: Serum HCV-RNA titres were quantified using branched chain DNA (bDNA) assay in 26 patients who responded to alpha-interferon (serum HCV-RNA negative after 12 weeks therapy) and 11 age and sex matched non-responders. Quantitative bDNA and qualitative RT-PCR assays for HCV-RNA were measured pretreatment and at 4 weeks. The change in quantitative HCV-RNA titre between pre-therapy and after 4 weeks was compared in the two groups.
Results: Seventeen of the 37 patients had become RT-PCR negative at 4 weeks (early responders) and had an undetectable HCV-RNA titre on bDNA assay. Nine patients were RT-PCR positive at 4 weeks but negative by 12 weeks (delayed responders), and of these, 8 had an undetectable viral titre at 4 weeks on bDNA assay. The patient with a detectable HCV titre did become RT-PCR negative after 12 weeks, but subsequently became RT-PCR positive again at 24 weeks. All the non-responders had a detectable bDNA titre (> 0.2 Meq/ml) at 4 weeks.
Conclusions: Change in quantitative HCV-RNA titre measured by bDNA assay at 4 weeks predicts response to alpha interferon. If HCV-RNA remains detectable on bDNA assay at 4 weeks, no sustained response to treatment is found and alpha-interferon can be discontinued.