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Abstract

Many nucleoside analogues have been investigated for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B. Some were withdrawn because of significant adverse effects and some are still in the early stage of clinical assessment. Lamivudine has been demonstrated to have consistent efficacy and safety in large-scale, phase III clinical trials. It has achieved a milestone in the treatment of chronic hepatitis B and is now commercially available in many countries. Being a potent inhibitor of hepatitis B viral replication, it achieved around 18% HBeAg seroconversion in HBeAg-positive patients after 1 year of therapy. HBeAg seroconversion is a good endpoint for therapy and has been shown to be 80% durable. The response was better among patients with raised pretreatment alanine aminotransferase levels. Liver necro-inflammation and fibrosis improved significantly after 1 year. Further improvement on extended therapy was observed together with an incremental increase in HBeAg seroconversion. Similar efficacy was demonstrated in HBeAg-negative viraemic patients. The main drawback is the emergence of drug-resistant variants starting from the sixth to ninth month of treatment. This can be associated with varying degrees of relapse of disease activity and may offset the benefit of therapy. With extended therapy, drug-resistant variants continue to emergence at a rate of around 20% per year. Adefovir dipivoxil and entacavir are nucleoside or nucleotide analogues shown to suppress both the wild-type and lamivudine-resistant virus. Combination of these nucleoside/nucleotide analogues with immune modulators may be the answer to eradicate the virus in short-term therapy and avoid the issue of drug resistance.