Sequential versus concomitant administration of ribavirin and interferon alfa-n3 in patients with chronic hepatitis C not responding to interferon alone: Results of a randomized, controlled trial

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Abstract

We conducted a three-arm, randomized trial in 96 patients with chronic hepatitis C who did not respond to interferon alfa to compare treatments. Group 1 (33 patients) received ribavirin alone (1,000 mg/daily for 6 months) followed by interferon alfa n-3 alone (3 MU thrice weekly for 6 months); group 2 (33 patients) received ribavirin plus interferon alfa n-3 for 6 months at the above doses; and group 3 (30 patients) received interferon alfa n-3 alone (3 MU thrice weekly for 6 months). At the end of treatment, 3 patients (10%) in group 1, 13 (41%) in group 2, and 5 (17%) in group 3 had normal alanine transaminase (ALT) levels (group 2 vs. groups 1 and 3, P= .008). After 6 months of follow-up, only 4 patients (12.5%) in group 2 still had normal ALT values (P= .03). At the end of therapy, hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA was no longer detectable by polymerase chain reaction in 4 (13%), 9 (27%), and 2 (7%) patients, respectively, in groups 1, 2, and 3 (P= NS). Six months posttherapy, only 5 (15%) patients in group 2 were still HCV RNA negative (P= .02). At the time of follow-up liver biopsy, performed 6 months after the end of treatment, a significant improvement of the necroinflammatory scores was observed among group 2 patients (P= .01) but not in the other two groups. Side effects reflected the profile of each drug as monotherapy; mild hemolytic anemia was the most frequent side effect caused by ribavirin. In conclusion, concomitant administration of ribavirin and interferon alfa n-3 was significantly superior to the sequential schedule or interferon alfa n-3 monotherapy in inducing a sustained response in patients with chronic hepatitis C who had not responded to interferon alone. However, combination therapy at the dose and duration adopted in this study is capable of modifying the natural course of the disease in only a minority of these patients.

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