Research coalition issues plan for curing hepatitis B virus



An international coalition of hepatitis B virus researchers, patients, and health organizations have released a comprehensive plan for developing a cure for this infection. They hope either to have a cure or to have made substantial progress toward this goal over the next 10 years.

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Treatments already are on the market that effectively inhibit hepatitis B replication in infected patients (and an effective preventive vaccine also exists). Still, these treatments are not curative, and for the vast majority of patients treatment must continue indefinitely, while their risk for liver cancer and their virally induced immune system abnormalities remain, Peter A. Revill, PhD, said during a press briefing that introduced a strategy for hepatitis B virus (HBV) cure development from the International Coalition to Eliminate HBV. Concurrently with the briefing session, the strategy appeared in an article published online (Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2019 Apr 10. doi: 10.1016/s2468-1253(19)30119-0).

The way forward will likely be a “two-pronged approach or restoring immune responses and targeting the virus,” Dr. Revill, head of molecular virology at the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, said in a video interview.

Dr. Anna S. Lok, professor of medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Mitchel L. Zoler/MDedge News

Dr. Anna S. Lok

The new strategy recognizes the huge challenge of devising a treatment that produces a total cure that includes elimination of all traces of viral DNA from patients and for the immediate future focuses on the goal of functional cure. The term functional cure means a sustained period without detectable HBV surface antigen or HBV DNA in a patient’s serum, as well as suppressed virus release. Another feature of a functional cure would be a halt to progression of liver disease, replaced by liver regeneration, said Anna S. Lok, MD, professor of medicine and director of clinical hepatology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a member of the strategy-writing group. She and her colleagues who wrote the strategy foresee the need for drug combinations with agents that can hit multiple viral targets as well as agents that restore normal immune function.

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