Recent progress and new trends in the treatment of hepatitis B



The annual rate of progression to cirrhosis in patients with chronic HBV is 0.4 to 14.2% and that of death 4 to 10%. HCC risk increases in parallel with the severity and duration of infection, with an annual incidence less than 0.5% in carriers and 6% in patients with cirrhosis. The main aim of antiviral therapy for chronic “wild-type” HBV infection is to suppress viral replication before cirrhosis and HCC develop. Two drugs are approved: IFN alpha and lamivudine. IFN alpha is costly, has a narrow range of efficacy, safety, and tolerability. Lamivudine is active, cheaper, and better tolerated but has limited efficacy, being associated with increasing resistance and loss of clinical response in the long term. IFN may be the first choice treatment in HBeAg-positive patients with a favourable profile and compensated liver disease. Patients with HBeAg-negative active disease can benefit from 12–24 months IFN treatment if early response is observed. Lamivudine should be started only after considering the uncertainties about duration of therapy and risks of stopping it. In patients with slowly progressive liver disease, treatment is better postponed until effective combination regimens are available. Lamivudine is of paramount importance in end-stage chronic liver disease to suppress HBV replication and allow successful transplantation. The role of interferon in preventing HCC is controversial. In two studies comparing the incidence of HCC in patients with HBeAg-negative chronic hepatitis treated with IFN, HCC developed less frequently in sustained responders than in non-responders in Greece (2 vs. 10%, P = 0.045), but not in Milan (7 vs. 10%, P = ns). J. Med. Virol. 67:458–462, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.