Conference Coverage

Hepatitis B debrief: Key themes that emerged at AASLD



– Some of the most notable abstracts presented here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases dealt with key topics including the natural history of hepatitis B virus, novel treatment approaches, and prevention, according to Marc Ghany, MD.

Dr. Marc Ghany, Liver Diseases Branch, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md Andrew Bowser/MDedge News

Dr. Marc Ghany

During a special hepatitis debriefing session held on the last day of the conference, Dr. Ghany reviewed his key selections in hepatitis B virus (HBV) research, including the following:

Natural history

Steatohepatitis may worsen HBV-related liver injury, according to results of an analysis of liver biopsies from adult patients enrolled in a North American cohort study (Abstract 162). Investigators found that steatohepatitis was associated with a 1.6-fold increased risk of advanced fibrosis.

“For all patients with hepatitis B, I think it’s important to screen and manage metabolic abnormalities to prevent liver disease progression,” said Dr. Ghany, who is with the Liver Diseases Branch of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.

Risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in patients with chronic hepatitis B was evaluated in two notable studies, Dr. Ghany said, including one that found no difference in risk of HCC development among white patients who received long-term entecavir versus those who received long-term tenofovir (Abstract 454). This stands in contrast to a previous and controversial finding, according to investigators, that HCC incidence was lower in Asian patients treated with tenofovir versus those treated with entecavir.

In the other study, investigators found that dual-antiplatelet therapy (DAPT) was associated with a lower risk of HCC versus aspirin monotherapy in patients with chronic hepatitis B (Abstract 934). Antiplatelet therapy was associated with a near 20% reduction in HCC risk, while DAPT as compared with aspirin monotherapy was linked to a near 30% reduction. “These are very provocative findings,” Dr. Ghany said. “Of course they need to be confirmed, but if so, may open new avenues of HCC chemoprevention.”

Novel therapies

Several new and promising drugs are undergoing clinical trials, including JNJ-64530440 (JNJ-0440), a novel class N capsid assembly modulator. In phase 1a data presented here at The Liver Meeting, the treatment was safe, well tolerated, and resulted in potent inhibition of viral replication (Abstract 0089). “We await further studies on its effect on functional cure,” Dr. Ghany told attendees.

Another treatment to watch is GSK3389404 (GSK404), a liver-targeted antisense oligonucleotide; in a phase 2 placebo-controlled study in patients with chronic hepatitis B on stable nucleos(t)ide therapy, this treatment had acceptable safety and produced dose-dependent declines in hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), according to investigators (Abstract 0695). Dr. Ghany said this constitutes “proof of principle” that antisense oligonucleotides can decrease HBsAg levels.

In a phase 2 randomized, placebo-controlled study in virally suppressed adults with chronic hepatitis B, the toll-like receptor 8 (TLR8) agonist GS-9688 was safe and well tolerated, and resulted in dose-dependent pharmacodynamic changes, with 5% of patients experiencing a 1 log10 IU/mL or greater decline in HBsAg levels or an HBsAg loss by week 24 (Abstract 0697). This is a “promising approach” that merits further study, according to Dr. Ghany.


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