Alpha-interferon treatment in hepatitis B
Pegylated interferon-α (PEG-IFN-α) is a first line option in the treatment of chronic hepatitis B. Compared with nucleos(t)ide analogues (NAs), therapy with PEG-IFN-α has the advantages of finite treatment duration and higher rates of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) seroconversion, but the disadvantage of greater adverse effects. Choosing PEG-IFN-α requires careful evaluation of the likelihood of achieving a sustained off-treatment response. Sustained off-treatment response with PEG-IFN-α can be predicted by baseline factors in HBeAg positive disease. These include genotype A or B, low viral load, high alanine aminotransferase (ALT), older age and female gender. On the other hand, no pre-treatment factors have been identified that can reliably predict response in HBeAg negative disease. Using on-treatment quantitative HBsAg levels, failure of a long term response can be identified with high negative predictive value (NPV). However, no combination of on treatment parameters have been identified so far that can precisely forecast successful treatment. Up until recently, there was little evidence supporting the use of combining PEG-IFN with NAs. The addition of PEG-IFN in patients who already have viral suppression with NAs therapy appears superior to continuing NAs alone in achieving a sustained response. Also, tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) in combination with PEG-IFN has been reported to enable significantly higher HBsAg loss than with either monotherapy alone. This occurred in both HBeAg positive and negative patients across all genotypes. In spite of recent developments, rates of HBsAg loss are still only in the order of 10% and so cure remains elusive. Further research is required to identify the optimal combination or sequential therapy regimen, and the subgroups with the highest rates of response so that they can be targeted.