Interferon for interferon nonresponding and relapsing patients with chronic hepatitis C

Ronald L Koretz, Maria Pleguezuelo, Vasiliki Arvaniti, Pilar Barrera Baena, Ruben Ciria, Kurinchi Selvan Gurusamy, Brian R Davidson, Andrew K Burroughs
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013 January 31, (1): CD003617

BACKGROUND: The widely-accepted treatment outcome for chronic hepatitis C is the sustained viral response (that is, no measurable viral RNA in blood six months after treatment). However, this surrogate outcome (as well as the previously employed biochemical and histologic ones) has never been validated. This situation exists because there are very few randomized clinical trials that have used clinical events (mortality or manifestations of decompensated cirrhosis) as outcomes, because those clinical events only occur after many years of infection. Patients in whom initial therapy fails to produce sustained viral responses do become potential candidates for retreatment; some of these individuals are not candidates for ribavirin or protease inhibitors and consideration could be given to retreatment with interferon alone.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the benefits and harms of interferon monotherapy retreatment in chronic hepatitis C patients and to validate the currently employed surrogate outcomes in this group of patients.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched The Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group Controlled Trials Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) in The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Science Citation Index Expanded until 16 August 2012.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomized trials comparing interferon versus placebo or no treatment in chronic hepatitis C nonresponders and relapsers to previous interferon.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: The primary outcomes were mortality (all-cause and hepatic), quality of life, and adverse events. Secondary outcomes were liver-related morbidity, sustained viral responses, biochemical responses, histologic improvements, and costs. We used both fixed-effect and random-effects model meta-analyses, reporting only the former if no difference existed.

MAIN RESULTS: Seven trials were identified. Two of them were at low risk of bias (the HALT-C and EPIC3 trials) and included 1676 patients. Both of these trials addressed the role of long-term low-dose pegylated interferon therapy in patients with severe fibrosis (demonstrated on liver biopsy) and were designed to assess the clinical outcomes. The remaining five trials included 300 patients and were at high risk of bias. Based on all trials reporting the outcomes, no significant difference was observed in either all-cause mortality (78/843 (9.3%) versus 62/867 (7.2%); risk ratio (RR) 1.30, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.95 to 1.79; 3 trials) or hepatic mortality (41/532 (7.7%) versus 40/552 (7.2%); RR 1.07, 95% CI 0.70 to 1.63; 2 trials); however, when only the two trials at low risk of bias were combined, all-cause mortality was significantly higher in the recipients of the pegylated interferon (78/828 (9.4%) versus 57/848 (6.7%); RR 1.41, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.96) although trial sequential analysis could not exclude the possibility of random error. There was less variceal bleeding in the recipients of the interferon (4/843 (0.5%) versus 18/867 (2.1%); RR 0.24, 95% CI 0.09 to 0.67; 3 trials), although again trial sequential analysis could not exclude the presence of a type I error and the effect could not be confirmed in a random-effects model meta-analysis. No significant differences were seen with regard to the development of ascites, encephalopathy, hepatocellular carcinoma, or the need for liver transplantation. One trial reported quality of life data; the pain score was significantly worse in the recipients of the pegylated interferon. Adverse effects tended to be more common in the interferon recipients; the ones that were significantly more common included hematologic complications, infections, flu-like symptoms, and rash. The recipients of interferon had significantly more sustained viral responses (20/557 (3.6%) versus 1/579 (0.2%); RR 15.38, 95% CI 2.93 to 80.71; 4 trials) and a type I error was excluded by trial sequential analysis. The METAVIR activity score also improved (36/55 (65%) versus 20/46 (43.5%); RR 1.49, 95% CI 1.02 to 2.18; 2 trials). No significant differences were seen with regard to histologic fibrosis assessments.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The clinical data were limited to patients with histologic evidence of severe fibrosis who were retreated with pegylated interferon. In this scenario, retreatment with interferon did not appear to provide significant clinical benefit and, when only the trials at low risk of bias were considered, retreatment for several years may even have increased all-cause mortality. Such treatment also produced adverse events. On the other hand, the treatment did result in improvement in some surrogate outcomes, namely sustained viral responses and histologic evidence of inflammation. Interferon monotherapy retreatment cannot be recommended for these patients. No clinical data are available for patients with less severe fibrosis. The sustained viral response cannot be used as a surrogate marker for hepatitis C treatment in this clinical setting with low sustained viral response rates and needs to be validated in others in which higher sustained viral response rates are reported.

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