• hepatitis C;
  • quantitative assay;
  • treatment response

To compare three quantitative assays measuring viral load in patients with chronic hepatitis C and to determine their value in predicting response to interferon (IFN) therapy, we analysed serum from 896 patients from eight European Centres using QUANTIPLEX bDNA, MONITOR AMPLICOR and SUPERQUANT assays. Analyses were performed on the same sample. Viral genotype was assessed using INNO-LiPA HCV II kits. Intercentre variations were observed that were related to the handling of specimens not processed and stored within 6 h of blood sampling. Among sera with optimal handling, a stronger correlation was observed between bDNA and SUPERQUANT (0.806) than between bDNA and MONITOR (0.677) and between MONITOR and SUPERQUANT (0.632). These discrepancies were greatest with genotype 2 (bDNA/SUPERQUANT= 0.772; bDNA/MONITOR=0.456; SUPERQUANT/MONITOR= 0.299). This correlation was influenced by viraemia level and was better at lower viral loads. The proportion of sera with undetectable viral load was 15% with bDNA, 9.7% with MONITOR and 7.7% with SUPERQUANT. For the three measurements, the best cut-offs of sustained response to IFN treatment were located at their detection threshold. Among patients with viral load below the detection level, a sustained response was observed in 35% tested with bDNA, 38% with MONITOR and 80% with SUPERQUANT. Hence a stronger correlation was observed between bDNA and SUPERQUANT than between either of these assays and MONITOR. SUPERQUANT was the most sensitive assay and this greater sensitivity was associated with a better predictive value of treatment response.