A randomized, controlled trial of a 24-month course of interferon alfa 2b in patients with chronic hepatitis B who had hepatitis B virus DNA without hepatitis B e antigen in serum



Short-term interferon treatment of serum hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg)-negative carriers with serum hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA and histological features of chronic hepatitis B has been largely unsuccessful. In a pilot study of long-term treatment, 42 such patients were randomly assigned to 6 million units of interferon alfa 2b (IFN-α2b) three times per week for 24 consecutive months (n = 21, 4 with cirrhosis) or to no therapy (n = 21, 3 with cirrhosis). Five patients (24%) discontinued therapy because of treatment-related adverse reactions. Serum levels of alanine transaminase (ALT) became persistently normal and HBV DNA undetectable by dot-blot assay in 8 patients receiving interferon and in 2 untreated controls (38% vs. 10%; P = .03). Hepatitis flare-ups disappeared in 17 patients during therapy compared with 6 controls (81% vs. 29%; P < .001). During a median period of 22 months after interferon was stopped, 2 treated patients (10%) lost serum hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and seroconverted to antibodies to hepatitis B surface antigen (anti-HBs). Serum ALT remained persistently normal and HBV DNA undetectable by dot-blot assay in 6 initial responders and 1 initial nonresponder, compared with none of the 21 untreated controls (sustained response: 33% vs. 0; P < .001). Comparative analysis of pre- and posttreatment liver biopsies showed that mean Knodell scores dropped in the treated group (10.3 to 5.3; P = .01), but not in the untreated group (9.3 to 9.8; not significant). In conclusion, a 24-month course of treatment with 6 MU IFN-α2b was well tolerated by most patients, led to sustained suppression of HBV in one third, and attenuated hepatitis in 81% of patients.