In utero treatment of congenital cytomegalovirus infection with valacyclovir in a multicenter, open-label, phase II study

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Abstract

Background

Congenital infection with human cytomegalovirus is a major cause of morbidity and mortality. A randomized controlled trial showed that high-dosage valacyclovir prevents cytomegalovirus disease in transplant recipients. Fetuses showing ultrasound features of infection are at high risk of being symptomatic at or before birth. In a pilot study, oral administration of high-dosage valacyclovir to mothers significantly decreased viral load and produced therapeutic concentrations in the blood of infected fetuses. A randomized controlled trial comparing prenatal treatment with valacyclovir against placebo in infected fetuses failed to recruit because women declined randomization. Randomized controlled trials in fetal medicine have often proven unacceptable by women who decline termination of pregnancy and are not prepared to resign themselves to the odds of the natural history of the disease.

Objective

We evaluated the efficacy of oral valacyclovir, 8 g daily, for pregnant women carrying a symptomatic cytomegalovirus-infected fetus, targeting a high-risk group for developing both neurosensory and neurological impairment.

Study Design

We designed a multicenter, open-label, phase II study with 1 arm, using one of Simon’s optimal 2-stage designs. Symptomatic fetuses were defined by the presence of measurable extracerebral or mild cerebral ultrasound symptoms. They were treated in utero from prenatal diagnosis at a median of 25.9 weeks’ gestation until delivery or termination of pregnancy. Fetuses with severe brain anomalies on ultrasound were not included as were cases completely asymptomatic at presentation, because treatment was unlikely to modify either outcome. The primary endpoint was the proportion of asymptomatic neonates born to treated mothers.

Results

At the interim analysis, 8 of 11 women delivered an asymptomatic neonate (required: ≥7). In step 2, 32 additional cases were included for a total of 43; the final number of asymptomatic neonates was 34, more than the 31 required to indicate efficacy according to the Simon 2-stage design. They remained asymptomatic at 12 months. High-dosage valacyclovir given for a median of 89 days to pregnant women carrying a moderately infected fetus was efficient at giving birth to asymptomatic neonates. Fetal blood viral loads decreased and platelet counts increased, both significantly (P = .01 and P < .001, respectively), between treatment initiation and birth after treatment completion, regardless of duration of fetal infection. Compared with a historical cohort obtained by a metaanalysis of the literature, the use of valacyclovir (8 g daily) significantly increased the proportion of asymptomatic neonates from 43% without treatment to 82% with treatment. Although the pill burden was high (16 pills a day) adherence to treatment was >90%. Finally, valacyclovir at this high dosage was extremely well tolerated.

Conclusion

Our results indicate that high-dosage valacyclovir given in pregnancy is effective for improving the outcome of moderately symptomatic infected fetuses. Although this study is not a randomized controlled trial, this is the first study reporting the efficacy of an antiviral drug to treat cytomegalovirus-infected fetuses. Moreover, this first study will allow new trials to be conducted, using valacyclovir as a baseline safe and effective treatment in pregnancy, to be compared to the new emerging and more potent anticytomegalovirus drugs that have not currently been tested in pregnancy.

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