BACKGROUND & AIMS: Several studies have reported that low doses of interferon can delay the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and progression of chronic hepatitis C. We investigated the incidence of clinical events among participants of the Evaluation of PegIntron in Control of Hepatitis C Cirrhosis (EPIC(3)) program.
METHODS: Data was analyzed from an open-label randomized study of patients with chronic hepatitis C who had failed to respond to interferon alfa plus ribavirin. All patients had compensated cirrhosis with no evidence of HCC. Patients received peginterferon alfa-2b (0.5 μg/kg/week; n = 311) or no treatment (controls, n = 315) for a maximum period of 5 years, or until 98 patients had a clinical event (hepatic decompensation, HCC, death, or liver transplantation). The primary measure of efficacy was time until the first clinical event.
RESULTS: There was no significant difference in time to first clinical event among patients who received peginterferon alfa-2b, compared with controls (hazard ratio [HR], 1.452; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.880-2.396). There was no decrease in the development of HCC with therapy. The time to disease progression (clinical events or new or enlarged varices) was significantly longer for patients who received peginterferon alfa-2b, compared with controls (HR, 1.564; 95% CI, 1.130-2.166). In a prospectively defined subanalysis of patients with baseline portal hypertension, peginterferon alfa-2b significantly increased the time to first clinical event, compared with controls ( P =.016). There were no new safety observations.
CONCLUSIONS: Maintenance therapy with peginterferon alfa-2b is not warranted in all patients and does not prevent HCC. However, there is a potential clinical benefit of long-term suppressive therapy in patients with preexisting portal hypertension.