, Volume 60, Issue 4, pp 701-710

Clinical Potential of Emerging New Agents in Hepatitis B

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Treatment of chronic hepatitis B is directed at interrupting the natural history and clinical outcomes of the disease. It needs to take into account the virology and replication cycle of the hepatitis B virus (HBV), and the host immune response to HBV. Long term follow-up of patients treated with interferon supports the paradigm that a sustained, major suppression of HBV replication, particularly that associated with hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) seroconversion, interrupts the natural history of hepatitis B. The availability of potent but well tolerated and orally available HBV antivirals, of which lamivudine is the prototype, has allowed clearer treatment objectives to be formulated. These are: temporary or permanent reduction of hepatitis (necroinflammatory) activity, arrest of fibrotic progression, prevention of cirrhosis and liver failure, and prevention of recurrent HBV infection after liver transplantation. Lamivudine has good medium term efficacy in achieving each of these objectives. The only significant problem for the longer term is emergence of antiviral resistance conferred by mutations in the YMDD (tyrosine-methionine-aspartic acid-aspartic acid) motif of the HBV reverse transcriptase. As a result, contentious issues remain about defining when antiviral therapy is indicated, whether to treat for a defined interval or indefinitely, and when to stop treatment if HBeAg seroconversion is not achieved. Some personal views are expressed in this review.

Among newer HBV antivirals in clinical studies, adefovir dipivoxil, entecavir and emtricitabine appear to be at least as potent as lamivudine in suppressing HBV replication. Famciclovir appears less potent. In vitro studies show that YMDD mutations confer cross-resistance between lamivudine, emtricitabine and β-L-Fd4C (L-2′,3′-didehydro-dideoxy-5-fluorocytidine). However, adefovir dipivoxil, lobucavir, entecavir, DAPD (β-D-2,6-diaminopurine dioxolane) and possibly clevudine (L-FMAU) suppress replication of YMDD mutant HBV, as well as wildtype. Preliminary studies indicate clinical efficacy of adefovir dipivoxil once resistance to lamivudine has developed. Immunomodulatory approaches to treatment of chronic hepatitis B are conceptually attractive, but newer agents used to date (thymalfasin, interleukin-12, therapeutic vaccines) have not demonstrated sufficient efficacy for widespread use. The next challenge for HBV treatment is to use antivirals in combination and/or in cyclical therapy to reduce the emergence of drug resistance and increase efficacy, particularly to achieve sustainable posttreatment suppression of hepatitis B.