Background & Aims: The most effective therapy currently available for treatment of chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the combination of peginterferon and ribavirin. This study evaluated the effectiveness of this treatment in patients who were nonresponders to previous interferon-based therapy. Methods: The first 604 patients enrolled in the Hepatitis C Antiviral Long-Term Treatment Against Cirrhosis (HALT-C) Trial were evaluated. All were HCV RNA positive, previous nonresponders to interferon, with or without ribavirin, and had bridging fibrosis or cirrhosis on liver biopsy (Ishak fibrosis stage 3-6). Patients were retreated with peginterferon alfa-2a 180 μg/wk plus ribavirin 1000-1200 mg/day. Those with no detectable HCV RNA in serum at week 20 continued treatment for a total of 48 weeks and were then followed for an additional 24 weeks. Results: Thirty-five percent of patients had no detectable HCV RNA in serum at treatment week 20, and 18% achieved sustained virologic response (SVR). Factors associated with an SVR included previous treatment with interferon monotherapy, infection with genotypes 2 or 3, a lower AST: ALT ratio, and absence of cirrhosis. Reducing the dose of ribavirin from ≥80% to ≤60% of the starting dose during the first 20 weeks of treatment was associated with a decline in SVR from 21% to 11% (P ≤ 0.05). In contrast, reducing the dose of peginterferon or reducing ribavirin after week 20, when HCV RNA was already undetectable, did not significantly affect SVR. Conclusions: Selected nonresponders to previous interferon-based therapy can achieve SVR following retreatment with peginterferon alfa-2a and ribavirin.
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