Hep B Blog

Category Archives: Hepatitis D Avocacy

Elevate Your Voice

Almost 300 million people worldwide live with chronic hepatitis B, but most of their stories remain untold. Often this is due to the negative stigma surrounding the virus, fear of discrimination, lack of community awareness or understanding of the disease and lack of support for those who wish to speak out publicly about hepatitis B.

No one knows hepatitis B better than the people living with the virus. Elevating the voice of people who live with hepatitis B is so important to bring awareness to hepatitis, help fight discrimination, and keeping up the momentum to find a cure for hepatitis B. Storytelling is an important to way to talk about an individual’s journeys with hepatitis B.

Since 2017, the Hepatitis B Foundation has partnered with StoryCenter to host six #justB digital storytelling workshops for over 40 participants from more than 20 U.S. states and Canadian provinces. The #justB campaign empowers people with lived experience to share their stories with the goals of increasing awareness and advocacy around hepatitis B, decreasing stigma and discrimination, and promoting testing, vaccination and linkage to care and treatment.

The latest #justB workshop was held in Berkeley, Calif., from March 18-20, 2022. It brought together five highly motivated adults living with hepatitis B who wanted to learn how to share their stories to educate communities and inspire action.

We will be highlighting these patient advocates and their stories over the next few months. Here are overviews of Adama and Chelle’s stories:

Adama, who was born in West Africa and immigrated to the U.S. decades ago, recalls when he tested positive for hepatitis B and how he soon realized that the illness his mother suffered from must have also been hepatitis B. “As I began to learn about the virus, I realized, ‘Oh, I think that’s what killed my mom.” Having lost his mother to the disease, Adama knows the importance of testing, early detection and monitoring for those who are living with hepatitis B. “I take treatment, I learned how to take care of myself… But what about the people around me, in my community, who won’t even get tested? Everyone talks about HIV, about how to protect ourselves, but this hepatitis virus is too much ignored.”

Chelle, a Utah resident, speaks candidly in her story about the stigma she encountered after being diagnosed with hepatitis B in the 1980s. “I felt so isolated. I couldn’t even talk to my family… Sometimes I thought about all the stomach problems I had complained of as a kid. I had been adopted from the Philippines in the 1970s. I was tested for this and that, but not for hepatitis B. Testing for the virus wasn’t widespread at that time. I was called a hypochondriac when the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong.” Chelle is grateful that things have improved since then and that she was able to pursue a career in the medical field. But her experience still motivates her to continue speaking out and fighting against hepatitis B related stigma that persists around the world.

To watch the new #justB stories by Adama, ChelleWendyDHE and FK, and to access the complete #justB video library with more information, please visit: www.hepb.org/justb.

How to Elevate Your Voice

Are you interested in sharing your journey with hepatitis B? The Hepatitis B Foundation has the B the Voice Story Bank which provides an online platform for people living with hepatitis B, their families, community health workers and health care providers to share their firsthand knowledge and experiences with a global audience. You can submit your stories using an online form, along with any photos and personal details you wish to share. Submissions are confidential and can be made without disclosing a person’s full identity.

We encourage you to share stories about your diagnosis, living with hepatitis B, access to care and treatment, stigma and discrimination, education and advocacy, support and caregiving, services and programs and other related topics to not only help raise awareness for hepatitis B, eliminate stigma and discrimination, but to also inspire others to be brave in their diagnosis.

How Can Providers Elevate Individual’s Voices?

It is important for providers to also help elevate peoples’ who are living with hepatitis B voices. Healthcare institutions, organizations, and departments must develop relationships with people living with hepatitis B to establish trust and listen to what they want to see be done in the hepatitis B world. Their opinions are critical to develop effective programming around hepatitis B education, vaccination, testing, and eventually elimination. 

Recent Roundtable Discussion Highlights Hepatitis Delta Virus

April 21st and 22nd, 2022 marked the occurrence of a roundtable meeting solely focused on hepatitis delta virus (HDV), which was jointly hosted by the American Liver Foundation and the Hepatitis B Foundation. This was one in a series of events taking place this year to raise the profile of hepatitis delta, a serious coinfection of hepatitis B virus (HBV) that is estimated to affect between 5 and 10% of people who are living with HBV. HDV is more severe than HBV alone, with a 70% chance of developing into cirrhosis or liver cancer if unmanaged, compared to an approximately 25% chance for those living with HBV alone. With approval of the first official treatment for hepatitis delta in Europe in July of 2020, expected approval in the United States later in 2022, and other treatments moving through the clinical trial pipeline, more is happening in the world of hepatitis delta than ever before. Despite the promising treatment landscape, the virus still remains significantly under-diagnosed (making estimation of true prevalence difficult), largely due to lack of awareness, low prioritization compared to other health conditions, and limited advocacy, and big questions persist about treatment equity, including access to knowledgeable providers, clinical trials, and available medications. The purpose of this roundtable was to begin a conversation among a diverse group of stakeholders about some of these issues, to bring attention to HDV and its potential consequences, to identify unmet needs in this area, and to prepare calls to action and next steps to address these needs.

Participants at the roundtable included individuals living with hepatitis delta, caregivers, healthcare providers, public health professionals, and representatives from community-based organizations. The conversation was very generative and really underscored some of the key issues that exist around hepatitis delta, including gaps in awareness and knowledge among medical and high-risk communities and limited access to and availability of HDV screening and care. These factors lead to under-diagnosis and under-surveillance, making the production of accurate data difficult, which in turn complicates advocacy efforts, since compelling data is often a key ingredient for policy change that might make screening, treatment, and linkage to care more available and accessible.

The ultimate planned outcome of this virtual event will be production of a white paper that will highlight key takeaways from the discussion, clearly outline unmet needs and priority issues for people living with HDV, and detail calls to action for stakeholders at every level to meet these needs and overcome some of the significant barriers and challenges that persist in diagnosing, managing, and treating HDV.

Another goal of the meeting was to begin to develop resources that can better support and engage the larger community around HDV awareness and advocacy – a first step toward this goal will be creation and dissemination of a visually appealing infographic, which will provide at-a-glance information about HDV and its estimated prevalence, transmission, prevention, testing, and treatment.

The white paper and infographic are expected to be complete by early summer 2022. The organizers of this roundtable meeting are hopeful that its outcomes will bring hepatitis delta virus more into focus for various stakeholder communities and generate more engagement and energy around this dangerous virus that has long been neglected and is not receiving the attention it deserves.

2022 – The Year of Hepatitis Delta

2022 is shaping up to be a big year for hepatitis delta, the rare but serious virus that can co-infect people who are already living with hepatitis B. As a quick refresher, hepatitis delta is a virus that depends upon the hepatitis B virus in order to survive and replicate – so only those who are already living with hepatitis B can become infected with hepatitis delta. Hepatitis delta virus (HDV) is believed to infect between 5 and 10% of people living with hepatitis B virus (HBV). HDV can occur through either a superinfection or a coinfection. A superinfection occurs when someone who is already living with HBV contracts HDV, in which case there is a very high chance that the individual will develop chronic (lifelong) infections of both HBV and HDV. A coinfection occurs when both HBV and HDV are contracted at the same time – when this happens in adults, both infections tend to clear within six months and there is only a 5% chance that chronic HBV and HDV will occur. Chronic HDV is particularly dangerous because it advances progression to serious liver damage and liver failure much more quickly than HBV alone – 70% of people diagnosed with HDV and HBV will experience serious liver damage within 10 years without intervention, compared to 15-30% of people diagnosed with HBV alone.

So, What’s Happening in the World of Hepatitis Delta?

The past 18 months have been very important for hepatitis delta research and drug development. In July of 2020, the European Medicines Agency approved Hepcludex, the first-ever drug approved for treatment of hepatitis delta, for prescription in France, Austria, and Germany. Hepcludex works by stopping HDV from entering and infecting liver cells (and is known as an entry inhibitor). In 2021, MYR Pharma, the German company that originally developed Hepcludex, was bought by Gilead Sciences, Inc., which is based in the United States, and which has since filed a Biologics Licensing Agreement for approval of Hepcludex by the US Food and Drug Administration, which is expected later this year. At this time, there is not a timeline for when Hepcludex approval will be expanded to more countries and parts of the world. Prior to Hepcludex, the only drug available for hepatitis delta management, which was never officially approved, was called pegylated interferon alpha. This drug, still in use today, is only effective in controlling HDV in about 25% of people living with the virus and has challenging side effects that can negatively impact quality of life.

In addition to Hepcludex, two other promising drugs are in clinical trials, both developed by Eiger BioPharma in the United States. The first of these is called Lonafarnib, which is being evaluated for how well it works to target the protein assembly process, which keeps new viruses from being created (it is known as a prenylation inhibitor). Lonafarnib, in combination with another drug called Ritonavir, is currently in Phase III clinical trials (the phase in which the safety and effectiveness of a drug is compared to that of currently available treatments). These trials are fully enrolled, and data is expected by the end of 2022. Additionally, Eiger is currently enrolling phase III clinical trials for Pegylated Interferon Lambda, which works by stimulating the body’s own immune system to fight the virus. For a full list of drugs under investigation for hepatitis delta, including one from Janssen Research and Development and one from Antios Therapeutics, visit our Drug Watch page.

Are There Other Clinical Trials Happening for Hepatitis Delta?

 Yes! There are clinical trials happening worldwide to test many of the drugs listed above and more. You can check out our clinical trials page here. This page includes a detailed description of each clinical trial, along with information about where it is being conducted and how to contact the principal investigator (or person leading the clinical trial). This page also includes a helpful graphic describing the clinical trial process and what it takes for a drug to move from an idea into the real world. It is important to note that not all of the trials listed here are for the purpose of testing a medication – some are observational studies to monitor what are called disease biomarkers, which are physical measures used to monitor the progress of a disease and could include tests of blood or liver function, for example. Clinical trials are currently happening in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.

When Will HDV Drugs and Clinical Trials Be More Accessible in More Parts of the World?

 This is unfortunately a difficult question to answer. Even though up to 10% of people who are living with hepatitis B are also living with hepatitis delta, there are not good systems in place to make sure that everyone who is living with HBV or who is at increased risk for HDV is tested and diagnosed, so there are not very accurate numbers about how many people in the world are living with HDV. Indeed, of the nearly 300 million people around the world who are living with hepatitis B alone, only 10% are aware of their diagnosis, so this number is undoubtedly far lower than even 10% for hepatitis delta. Without accurate information about how many people are living with the virus, it is difficult for drug and clinical trial developers to invest resources into studying or pursuing drug development or clinical trials for HDV.

Another problem is the many resources of time, money, and labor that are necessary for developing drugs, and preparing and running clinical trials. The development process for a single drug can take anywhere from 5-15 years and a much larger number of drugs fail to complete this process than succeed. Additionally, there needs to be some degree of existing infrastructure in a particular country in order to both support a clinical trial and ultimately to get a drug approved. Unfortunately, this kind of infrastructure is generally already established and easier to navigate in wealthier countries, so these are the countries in which clinical trials are generally held and in which drug approvals tend to happen first. Public health and clinical infrastructure is slowly developing and becoming more prioritized in different parts of the world and hopefully this trend will continue, but for the time being, the locations of clinical trials and approvals for important treatments point to the much larger issues of lack of access to health and healthcare in much of the world, that in turn stem from deep-seated poverty and inequity. Again, as health equity continues to be a focus of the public eye, these trends will hopefully begin to change, paving the way for greater access to healthcare for hepatitis delta, hepatitis B, and countless other health conditions.

What Is Hep Delta Connect’s Role?

 This year, Hep Delta Connect will continue its work to raise the profile of hepatitis delta, both in the United States and around the world. We are committed to building awareness through partnerships with community-based organizations, healthcare providers, and governmental agencies around the world and through dissemination of educational materials and programming. We hope to foster greater engagement of those living with and affected by hepatitis delta globally, more focused advocacy efforts to bring HDV into the spotlight, and increased screening, diagnosis, and management of HDV. We keep our website and social media channels updated regularly with program news and events – make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and check out our website frequently! You are always welcome to connect with us anytime at connect@hepdconnect.org. We look forward to an exciting year of work on HDV!