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Abstract

Sustained viral suppression using monotherapy with interferon alfa (IFN-α) or lamivudine can only be achieved in a small percentage of patients with chronic hepatitis B. The concomitant administration of lamivudine and IFN-α does not enhance efficacy. We postulated that the optimal timing of therapy might be sequential treatment with lamivudine and IFN-α. The aim of this study was therefore to assess the efficacy of sequential treatment in patients resistant to IFN-α alone. Fourteen male patients, with a median age of 40 years, nonresponders to IFN-α with hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA > 100 pg/mL (branched DNA [bDNA] Chiron) and positive hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) in 11 of 14 patients, were treated with lamivudine 100 mg/d alone for 20 weeks, then with both IFN-α2b 5 MU 3 times per week and lamivudine for 4 weeks, and lastly with IFN-α alone for 24 weeks. At the end of lamivudine therapy, all patients had undetectable serum HBV DNA, and none exhibited an emergence of HBV polymerase mutant or breakthrough. Sustained serum HBV-DNA clearance 6 months after the end of sequential treatment was achieved in 8 of 14 patients, HBeAg–to–anti-HBe seroconversion in 5 of 11 patients, and HBeAg and hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) seroconversions in 3 of 14 patients (anti-HBs > 100 IU/mL). All sustained responders had normalized their alanine transaminase (ALT) values and exhibited histologic improvements. In conclusion, the results of this pilot study suggest that sequential treatment with lamivudine and IFN-α can induce a sustained virologic response, including HBs seroconversion, in patients with chronic hepatitis B not responding to IFN-α alone, without the selection of drug-resistant mutants. This therapeutic schedule warrants further evaluation in clinical trials. (HEPATOLOGY 2001;34:573-577.)