Patients with chronic hepatitis C who have not had a sustained hepatitis C virus (HCV)-RNA response or serum alanine transaminase (ALT) response to a 6-month course of interferon (IFN) may respond to higher dose retreatment with consensus interferon (CIFN). Some nonresponders to initial IFN treatment have a transient response defined as undetectable HCV RNA or normalization of ALT during treatment, but subsequently have a 'breakthrough' while still on treatment. The aim of this study was to determine if nonresponders who had breakthroughs responded differently to CIFN retreatment than nonresponders without breakthroughs using data from a large, multicenter trial. ALT and HCV RNA were monitored frequently during initial IFN therapy (either 9 mcg CIFN or 3 MU IFN-α2b 3 times per week). HCV-RNA breakthroughs were observed in 86 of 467 (18%) of all treated patients, and ALT breakthroughs were observed in 90 of 467 (19%) of all treated patients. There was no association between breakthroughs and the presence of either binding or neutralizing anti-IFN antibodies. When the patients who were nonresponders to initial IFN treatment were retreated with CIFN (15 mcg) for 12 months, 27% of those with viral breakthroughs had a sustained viral response compared with 8% in prior nonresponders without breakthroughs (P =. 102). Sustained ALT responses were observed in 39% with breakthroughs compared with 10% in those without breakthroughs (P = .014). The data suggest that prior nonresponders with breakthroughs have a greater chance of responding to retreatment than do nonresponders without breakthroughs. However, most breakthrough patients would be missed unless repeated HCV-RNA testing were conducted during therapy.
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