Interferon alpha-2b and ribavirin in combination for patients with chronic hepatitis C who failed to respond to, or relapsed after, interferon alpha therapy: a randomized trial


      PURPOSE: To assess the efficacy of interferon alpha-2b and ribavirin in combination in the treatment of patients with chronic hepatitis C who had either failed to respond to therapy with interferon alpha (nonresponders), or who had relapsed after interferon therapy (relapsers).
      SUBJECTS AND METHODS: Four hundred patients with chronic hepatitis C (200 nonresponders and 200 relapsers) were randomly assigned in equal numbers to receive either subcutaneous administration of recombinant interferon alpha-2b (3 million units three times per week) and ribavirin (1,000 to 1,200 mg/daily orally) or interferon alpha-2b alone (6 million units three times per week). Both ribavirin and interferon alpha-2b were given for 24 weeks. The patients were then followed for an additional 24 weeks.
      RESULTS: At the end of the treatment period, normalization of serum alanine aminotransferase levels and absence of hepatitis C virus RNA were seen in 21% of nonresponders and in 39% of relapsers who were treated with interferon alpha-2b and ribavirin, compared with 5% of nonresponders (P = 0.001) and 9% of relapsers treated with interferon alpha-2b alone (P <0.001). At the end of follow-up, 14% of nonresponders and 30% of relapsers treated with the combination therapy had a sustained response, compared with 1% of nonresponders (P = 0.001) and 5% of relapsers treated with interferon alpha alone (P <0.001).
      CONCLUSIONS: A 24-week course of treatment with interferon alpha-2b and ribavirin offers a chance of sustained response, whereas retreatment with interferon alpha-2b alone does not give satisfactory results. The role of long-term therapy in inducing prolonged remission remains to be explored.
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