Summary. Patients with decompensated cirrhosis owing to chronic hepatitis B viral (HBV) infection have a high morbidity/mortality rate, and the treatment remains a challenge. We studied the safety and efficacy of telbivudine and lamivudine in such patients. This noninferiority, double-blind trial randomized 232 treatment-naive patients with decompensated HBV (1:1) in 80 academic hospitals to receive once-daily telbivudine 600 mg or lamivudine 100 mg for 104 weeks. Primary composite endpoint was proportion of patients with HBV DNA <10 000 copies/mL, normal alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and Child-Turcotte-Pugh score improvement/stabilization at week 52. Response rates using a post hoc modified endpoint (HBV DNA <300 copies/mL [57 IU/mL] and ALT normalization) in intent-to-treat analysis (missing = failure) were 56.3%vs 38.0% after 76 weeks (P = 0.018) and 45.6%vs 32.9% after 104 weeks (P = 0.093) for telbivudine vs lamivudine. Telbivudine treatment was an independent predictive factor for HBV DNA <300 copies/mL and ALT normalization (P = 0.037). Response rates with protocol-defined composite endpoint in intent-to-treat analysis (M = F) were 56.2 vs 54.0% (noninferiority not achieved) and 39.1%vs 36.4% (noninferiority achieved) in telbivudine and lamivudine groups at 52 and 104 weeks. Telbivudine treatment was associated with a significant improvement in glomerular filtration rate compared to lamivudine treatment and was also associated with a trend for improvement in survival (87%vs 79%). No cases of lactic acidosis were reported. Telbivudine compared to lamivudine was associated with a higher rate of patients with both viral suppression and ALT normalization, a trend towards a higher rate of survival and significant improvement in glomerular filtration.