Benefits and risks of interferon therapy for hepatitis B


  • Potential conflict of interest: Dr. Perrillo is on the Speakers Bureau for Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche Pharmaceuticals. He currently receives research support from Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pharmasett, Inc.


Alpha interferon is the only licensed drug for hepatitis B with immunomodulatory as well as viral inhibitory properties. Potential advantages of interferon compared to nucleoside analogs include a lack of drug resistance, a finite and defined treatment course, and a higher likelihood for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) clearance. Approximately 30% of hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg)-positive and 40% of HBeAg-negative cases have a sustained virological response (when defined as HBeAg seroconversion and/or hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA levels below 20,000 copies/mL, respectively) 6 months after completion of a 48-week course of peginterferon alfa-2a These responses remain durable in 80% and 50% of cases, respectively, when evaluated several years later. Recent studies have shown that changes in HBsAg and HBeAg concentration during treatment predict sustained virological response and serial monitoring of HBsAg is helpful in predicting HBsAg clearance. HBeAg-positive patients with genotype A have higher rates of HBeAg and HBsAg clearance, whereas HBeAg-negative patients with genotype D have the lowest rate of response to interferon therapy. Long-term follow-up of virological responders to either standard alpha interferon or peginterferon has demonstrated a progressive increase in the rate of HBsAg clearance, particularly in patients who were initially HBeAg-positive. Future studies need to address if specific virological benchmarks during therapy can be used to tailor treatment duration. Conclusion: Peginterferon alfa has a place as first-line therapy of hepatitis B in patients who are carefully selected on the basis of pretreatment serum HBV DNA and aminotransferase levels, safety considerations, and viral genotype. (HEPATOLOGY 2009;49:S103–S111.)