BACKGROUND: Antiviral treatment is currently not recommended for patients with chronic hepatitis B with a low viral load. However, they might benefit from acquiring a functional cure (hepatitis B surface antigen [HBsAg] loss with or without formation of antibodies against hepatitis B surface antigen [anti-HBs]). We assessed HBsAg loss during peg-interferon-alfa-2a (peg-IFN) and nucleotide analogue combination therapy in patients with chronic hepatitis B with a low viral load.
METHODS: In this randomised controlled, open-label trial, patients were enrolled from the Academic Medical Center (AMC), Amsterdam, Netherlands. Eligible patients were HBsAg positive and hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) negative for more than 6 months, could be treatment naive or treatment experienced, and had alanine aminotransferase (ALT) concentrations less than 5 × upper limit of normal (ULN). Participants were randomly assigned (1:1:1) by a computerised randomisation programme (ALEA Randomisation Service) to receive peg-IFN 180 μg/week plus adefovir 10 mg/day, peg-IFN 180 μg/week plus tenofovir disoproxil fumarate 245 mg/day, or no treatment for 48 weeks. The primary endpoint was the proportion of patients with serum HBsAg loss among those who received at least one dose of study drug or had at least one study visit (modified intention-to-treat population [mITT]). All patients have finished the initial study of 72 weeks and will be observed for up to 5 years of follow-up. This study is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT00973219.
FINDINGS: Between Aug 4, 2009, and Oct 17, 2013, 167 patients were screened for enrolment, of whom 151 were randomly assigned (52 to peg-IFN plus adefovir, 51 to peg-IFN plus tenofovir, and 48 to no treatment). 46 participants in the peg-IFN plus adefovir group, 45 in the peg-IFN plus tenofovir group, and 43 in the no treatment group began treatment or observation and were included in the mITT population. At week 72, two (4%) patients in the peg-IFN plus adefovir group and two (4%) patients in the peg-IFN plus tenofovir group had achieved HBsAg loss, compared with none of the patients in the no treatment group (p=0·377). The most frequent adverse events (>30%) were fatigue, headache, fever, and myalgia, which were attributed to peg-IFN dosing. Two (4%) serious adverse events were reported in the peg-IFN plus adefovir group (admission to hospital for alcohol-related pancreatitis [week 6; n=1] and pregnancy, which was electively aborted [week 9; n=1]), three (7%) in the peg-IFN plus tenofovir group (admission to hospital after a suicide attempt during a severe depression [week 23; n=1], admission to hospital for abdominal pain [week 2; n=1], and an elective laminectomy [week 40; n=1]), and three (7%) in the no treatment group (admission to hospital for septic arthritis [week 72; n=1], endocarditis [week 5; n=1], and hyperthyroidism [week 20; n=1]).
INTERPRETATION: In patients with chronic hepatitis B with a low viral load, combination treatment (peg-IFN plus adefovir and peg-IFN plus tenofovir) did not result in significant HBsAg loss compared with no treatment, which does not support the use of combination treatment in this population of patients.
FUNDING: Roche, Fonds NutsOhra.