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.
The 2020 meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) in November offered the opportunity for scientists from industry and academia to present their findings from clinical trials, studying new medications for hepatitis B and D. Two such presentations were given by Eiger BioPharmaceuticals, Inc. who presented their findings about how well their medications peginterferon lambda and lonafarnib work, both independently and in combination, to treat hepatitis delta virus (HDV) and halt liver fibrosis. The results are promising and offer hope for those affected by HDV.
The two medicines under investigation in these studies work in different ways. Lonafarnib works by blocking farnesyl transferase, an enzyme involved in prenylation, the modification of proteins that is necessary for the life cycle of HDV. Peginterferon lambda, on the other hand, triggers immune responses that are crucial for host protection during viral infections. Lambda can also target liver cells accurately, thus reducing the effects of inadvertently targeting central nervous system cells and making it more tolerable to those taking it (Eiger, 2020).
Eiger’s first study examined how well peginterferon lambda and lonafarnib (known as LIFT – Lambda InterFeron combo Therapy) work together to lower levels of HDV RNA, 24 weeks post-treatment (Eiger, 2020). This was a Phase 2 study. Lambda was administered at a dosage of 180 mcg once weekly, in combination with 50 mg of Lonafarnib and 100 mg of ritonavir given twice daily, for 24 weeks. The results of this study found that 77% of the 26 participants saw their HDV RNA levels decline and reach a level that was either undetectable or below the level of quantification. 23% of these participants were able to maintain these levels for 24 weeks after treatment had ended. Both tenofovir and entecavir were started prior to treatment for management of HBV. The observed side effects of this regimen were mild to moderate and included mostly gastrointestinal issues or were related to blood chemistry (Eiger, 2020).
The second study found that peginterferon lambda caused the regression of liver fibrosis after 48 weeks of treatment in people living with hepatitis delta. Two case studies emerged from the completed Phase 2 LIMT (Lambda Interferon MonoTherapy) study (Eiger, 2020). In these studies, a total of 33 participants received either 180 µg or 120 µg of lambda subcutaneous injections weekly for 48 weeks. Results indicated that degrees of liver fibrosis and levels of HDV RNA declined below the level of quantification in some participants, even after 72 weeks in a handful of cases. In some instances, ALT levels decreased as well. Side effects were found to be mild to moderate and fewer than those experienced by participants who had taken peginterferon alpha in the past. Side effects were primarily flu-like in nature (Eiger, 2020).
Therapies for hepatitis B and D will only continue to improve and become more precise and targeted as time goes by. Check out the Hepatitis Delta Connect website for detailed information on HDV, as well as current clinical trials and a drug watch page, both of which are updated regularly. (A brand-new clinical trial has just been added!) For more information about Eiger BioPharmaceuticals, click here.
New Drug Approved for Treatment of Hepatitis Delta in Europe
A new drug to treat hepatitis delta has now been approved by the European Commission! The drug is called bulevirtide and will be marketed under the brand name Hepcludex. It was previously known at Myrcludex B. This approval follows a quarter century of research and development and is the first drug specifically for hepatitis delta approved in Europe. Due to the high prevalence of the hepatitis delta virus in Russia and the former Soviet Union, it has been approved for use there since the end of 2019, under the name Myrcludex. The European Medicines Agency recommended the drug for approval by the Commission at the end of May 2020 (German Center for Infection Research, 2020).
How Does It Work?
Hepcludex, developed by university researchers in Heidelberg, Germany, works as an entry inhibitor – that is, it prevents hepatitis delta virus (HDV) cells, and the hepatitis B virus (HBV) cells upon which HDV depends, from entering healthy liver cells. Both HDV and HBV cells are able to replicate and thrive exclusively in the liver because they need the bile acid transporter NTCP in order to do so. This transporter is the avenue through which HDV is received into the liver cell. Hepcludex works by blocking this reception process, so that the virus does not continue to infect healthy liver cells (German Center for Infection Research, 2020). The currently infected cells either die or are destroyed by the immune system.
How Have People Responded?
Hepcludex is an injectable medication given daily for 48 weeks. In phase I and II clinical trials, people seemed to respond well to this treatment. It seems that just a small amount of Hepcludex is needed, which is good news because it means that the normal processes of the bile salt transporter (NTCP – the receptor of the hepatitis delta virus) will not be widely disrupted (German Center for Infection Research, 2020). MYR Pharmaceuticals GmbH, which now has the license for Hepcludex, is currently in the process of running further phase II and larger phase III trials, in order to continue to determine long-term effects. Hepcludex has also been tested in combination therapy with PEG Interferon, which is administered weekly also via injection (Highleyman, 2019).
Does it also work for Hep B?
Right now, Hepcludex has been tested and works to treat people with hepatitis delta. Since hepatitis delta becomes the dominant virus in those co-infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis delta, clearing hep delta will not necessarily clear hep B as well. However, the curative properties of this drug for those only affected with hep B are being investigated, both alone and in combination with PEG interferon, and there was a loss of surface antigen (HbsAg) noted in 20% of clinical trial participants who were given this combination (Highleyman, 2019).
What does this mean for patients?
Research thus far indicates that Hepcludex can be more effective than interferon alone, the existing hepatitis delta treatment, which is usually not curative and has challenging side effects (Smith, 2020). Hepcludex is now available for prescription in Europe, although pricing schemes remain unclear. For updated information on pricing and availability, check with your doctor or visit the MYR Pharmaceuticals website here.
Clinical trials will continue to take place for this and other drugs. Researchers and pharmaceutical companies might experience difficulty in recruiting patients for hepatitis delta clinical trials because of a lack of awareness and testing – many people living with hepatitis delta worldwide remain undiagnosed. It is important for people at risk for hepatitis delta to be tested and linked to care if found to be infected. If you have hepatitis delta and are interested in participating in a clinical trial, you can search for one near you. To find a doctor to talk to about getting tested for hepatitis delta if you are living with hep B, click here. Hepatitis delta can often be managed and treated, and you are not alone! The most important first step is to know your status.
What does this mean for providers?
The exact number of people living with hepatitis delta around the world is unknown and estimates range anywhere from 20-70 million. Most of these individuals remain undiagnosed due in large part to a lack of testing and diagnostics. Stephan Urban, one of the researchers leading the effort in the development of Hepcludex has said that, in the United States, fewer than 5% of those tested for hepatitis B are also tested for hepatitis delta (Smith, 2020). It is true that in much of the world diagnostic tools remain unaffordable and so Dr. Urban and his team are developing a much less expensive and rapid test. If the capacity exists, however, testing is crucial for the management of this most severe form of viral hepatitis and all of the subsequent liver conditions that can develop from it. Additionally, as with all infectious diseases, vaccination of ALL people to prevent hepatitis B is critical. Click here for more information on hepatitis delta in general and here for questions and concerns.
Highleyman, L. (2019, December 16). Combination therapies show promise against hepatitis D. Retrieved August 31, 2020, from https://www.worldhepatitisalliance.org/latest-news/infohep/3548132/combination-therapies-show-promise-against-hepatitis-d
Hepatitis simply means inflammation of the liver which can be caused by infectious diseases, toxins (drugs and alcohol), and autoimmune diseases. The most common forms of viral hepatitis are A, B, C, D, and E. With 5 different types of hepatitis, it can be confusing to know the differences among them all.
While all 5 hepatitis viruses can cause liver damage, they vary in modes of transmission, type of infection, prevention, and treatment.
Hepatitis A (HAV) is highly contagious and spread through fecal-oral transmission or consuming contaminated food or water1. This means that if someone is infected with hepatitis A they can transmit it through preparing and serving food and using the same utensils without first thoroughly washing their hands. Symptoms of HAV include jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes), loss of appetite, nausea, fever, abnormally colored stool and urine, fever, joint pain, and fatigue1. Sometimes these symptoms do not present themselves in an infected person which can be harmful because they can unknowingly spread the virus to other people. Most people who get HAV will feel sick for a short period of time and will recover without any lasting liver damage2. A lot of hepatitis A cases are mild, but in some instances, hepatitis A can cause severe liver damage. Hepatitis A is vaccine preventable and the vaccine is recommended for people living with hepatitis B and C. Read this blog post for a detailed comparison of hepatitis B and hepatitis A!
Hepatitis B (HBV) is transmitted through bodily fluids like blood and semen, by unsterile needles and medical/dental equipment and procedures, or from mother-to-child during delivery1. HBV is considered a “silent epidemic” because most people do not present with symptoms when first infected. This can be harmful to individuals because HBV can cause severe liver damage, including cirrhosis and liver cancer if not properly managed over time3. Hepatitis B can either be an acute or chronic infection meaning some cases last about 6 months while other cases last for a lifetime. In some instances, mostly among people who are infected as babies and young children, acute HBV cases can progress to a chronic infection3. Greater than 90% of babies and up to 50% of young children will develop lifelong infection with hepatitis B if they are infected at a young age.
Hepatitis C (HCV) is similarly transmitted like HBV through bodily fluids, like blood and semen, and by unsterile needles and medical/dental equipment and procedures. Symptoms of HCV are generally similar to HAV’s symptoms of fever, fatigue, jaundice, and abnormal coloring of stool and urine1, though symptoms of HCV usually do not appear until an infected individual has advanced liver disease. Acute infections of hepatitis C can lead to chronic infections which can lead to health complications like cirrhosis and liver cancer1. Read this blog for a detailed comparison of hepatitis B and hepatitis C!
Hepatitis Delta (HDV) infections only occur in persons who are also infected with hepatitis B1,3. Hepatitis Delta is spread through the transfer of bodily fluids from an infected person to a non-infected person. Similar to some other hepatitis viruses, hepatitis Delta can start as an acute infection that can progress to a chronic one. HDV is dependent on the hepatitis B virus to reproduce3. This coinfection is more dangerous than a single infection because it causes rapid damage to the liver which can result in fatal liver failure. Find out more about hepatitis B and hepatitis Delta coinfection here!
Hepatitis E (HEV) is similar to hepatitis A as it is spread by fecal-oral transmission and consumption of contaminated food and water1. It can be transmitted in undercooked pork, game meat and shellfish. HEV is common in developing countries where people don’t always have access to clean water. Symptoms of hepatitis E include fatigue, loss of appetite, stomach pain, jaundice, and nausea. Talk to your doctor if you are a pregnant woman with symptoms as a more severe HEV infection can occur. Many individuals do not show symptoms of hepatitis E infection1. Additionally, most individuals recover from HEV, and it rarely progresses to chronic infection. Read this blog for a detailed comparison of hepatitis B and hepatitis E!
Here is a simple table to further help you understand the differences among hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E.
Fortunately, hepatitis viruses are preventable.
Hepatitis A is preventable through a safe and effective vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that children be vaccinated for HAV at 12-23 months or at 2-18 years of age for those who have not previously been vaccinated. The vaccine is given as two doses over a 6-month span1. This vaccine is recommended for all people living with hepatitis B & C infections
Hepatitis B is also preventable through a safe and effective vaccine. The vaccine includes 3 doses over a period of 6 months, and in the U.S. there is a 2-dose vaccine that can be completed in 1-month1,3. Read more here, if you would like to know more about the vaccine series schedule.
Hepatitis C does not have a vaccine, however, the best way to prevent HCV is by avoiding risky behaviors like injecting drugs and promoting harm reduction practices. While there is no vaccine, curative treatments are available for HCV1.
Hepatitis Delta does not have a vaccine, but you can prevent it through vaccination for hepatitis B1,3.
Hepatitis E does not have a vaccine available in the United States. However, there has been a vaccine developed and licensed in China1,2.
In October 2019, the Hepatitis B Foundation had the opportunity to speak with Andrew Vaillant, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer at Replicor at the annual International HBV Meeting in Melbourne, Australia. Dr. Vaillant gave us an inside look at REP 2139 – their drug candidate developed for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B and HBV/HDV coinfection. REP 2139 is a nucleic acid polymer that removes surface antigen (HBsAg) and as part of combination therapy, has achieved functional cure for chronic HBV (sustained HBsAg loss) and sustained clearance of HDV infection from the blood in early phase II proof of concept clinical trials it has completed to date. REP 2139 is currently in phase II of clinical trials. Below is Dr. Vaillant’s response to a series of questions we posed to him.
1. Replicor’s drug candidate REP 2139 is a nucleic acid polymer (NAP) for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B. Can you explain the mechanism for this drug and how it works?
REP 2139 is a polymer built from the building blocks the body uses to store genetic material in the body (nucleic acids). These building blocks are linked together in a unique pattern to form nucleic acid polymers (or NAPs for short) and in the case of REP 2139, use only naturally occurring nucleic acids and modifications to prevent it being recognized as a foreign molecule. As a result, REP 2139 is very well tolerated and safe in clinical trials.
In HBV infection, the most abundant viral antigen in the blood is the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) which plays an important role in preventing immune control of HBV. Circulating HBsAg is almost entirely in the form of non-infectious HBV subviral particles (SVP) which are produced independently from viral replication, making this viral antigen difficult to target with approved therapies. REP 2139 naturally enters liver cells (hepatocytes) and blocks the assembly of SVP in any hepatocyte producing SVPs. This mechanism effectively blocks the replenishment of HBsAg in the blood and also reduces HBsAg inside these hepatocytes. The overall antiviral effect of REP 2139 is to allow the body to clear HBsAg in order to reduce or remove the inhibition of immune control caused by this viral antigen.
2. REP 2165 is also mentioned as a drug candidate. Can you explain the difference between REP 2139 and REP 2165.
REP 2165 is a close cousin of REP 2139 being examined for potential use in future therapy with more frequent dosing to improve HBsAg response in selected cases and was proven to be as effective as REP 2139 in this study. More information about REP 2165 can be found under question 6.
3. Can you share the latest results from phase 2 trials? How is REP 2139 administered to patients, and for what duration of time? What kind of side effects can patients expect with REP 2139?
In our latest trials, side effects have been limited to mild effects from pegylated interferon (pegIFN). REP 2139 is currently given in a formulation (REP 2139-Mg) which results in little to no side effects during administration. REP 2139 is currently administered once every week for 48 weeks by intravenous infusion in combination with other antiviral agents. REP 2139-Mg is expected to be as effective with a once weekly injection under the skin (subcutaneous injection) which will be used in future trials.
4. Is REP 2139 equally effective in HBeAg positive and negative patients?
REP 2139 is effective in HBeAg positive and in HBeAg negative patients in multiple genotypes. As REP 2139 targets a host protein involved in SVP formation and not the virus or SVP directly, its antiviral effects are expected to be similar in all HBV genotypes and may also be effective in the presence of other co-infections with HBV such as HCV and HIV.
5. Can REP 2139 be safely used in patients with cirrhosis?
Another of the remarkable features of NAP based therapy is the high rate of flares in liver transaminases during therapy (occurring in almost all participants in the REP 401 study). Patients with these flares had no symptoms or any negative impact on their liver function.
Continually expanding evidence in the field tells us that during treatment of HBV, these flares are signs of elimination of HBV infection from the liver and are not accompanied by changes in liver function. These same features appear to hold true for transaminase flares during NAP therapy and, when occurring in the absence of HBsAg in the blood, are highly correlated with functional cure in our clinical trials. The ability of cirrhotic patients to tolerate these flares will be tested in future trials and we are encouraged by recent results (produced by a different group) with pegIFN in HBV / HDV co-infected patients showing that host mediated transaminase flares may also be well tolerated in cirrhotic patients.
6. Do you anticipate combination therapy will be needed? Will combination therapy include immune modulators like pegylated interferon and/or treatment with antivirals?
Replicor’s latest REP 401 study is the first in the field to feature triple combination therapy: Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF), pegIFN and either REP 2139-Mg or REP 2165-Mg. REP 2165 is a close cousin of REP 2139 being examined for potential use in future therapy with more frequent dosing to improve HBsAg response in selected cases and was proven to be as effective as REP 2139 in this study. In addition to the excellent control of HBV DNA with TDF exposure, this triple combination therapy for 48 weeks led to meaningful HBsAg decline (greater than a 10-fold reduction from baseline) in 90 % of participants, HBsAg clearance to very low levels similar to HBsAg “negative” in the qualitative test used in the United States (< 0.05 IU/mL) and HBsAg seroconversion (often with very high titers of anti-HBs antibodies) in 60% of participants. After removal of all treatment (including TDF), a 48-week follow-up yielded very encouraging results: 89% had normal liver function, 56% had reduced liver inflammation, 39% had stable virologic control and an additional 39% had functional cure with HBsAg seroconversion. These results illustrate the effectiveness of combining potent HBsAg reduction with immunotherapy but also suggest that direct acting antivirals such as TDF and entecavir may also contribute to establishing functional cure in a combination setting.
7. Surface antigen loss is key to people living with chronic HBV. Do you believe REP 2139 can provide a functional cure for chronic HBV?
In an early clinical study using NAPs alone, HBsAg clearance by itself resulted in virologic control (low level infection with normal liver infection no longer requiring therapy under current guidelines ) or functional cure (complete control of HBV DNA and HBsAg) persisting after removal of all therapy only in a small proportion of patients but stable throughout a 5 year follow-up. Importantly, HBsAg clearance with REP 2139 in a subsequent study led not only to a dramatic improvement in the activity of various immunotherapies (including pegIFN) but to virologic control occurring in a larger proportion of patients after removal of therapy persisting throughout more than 2 years of follow-up. As a result of these early studies, Replicor believes that the best approach to achieving functional cure of HBV infection is to simultaneously combine potent HBsAg reduction using REP 2139 with immunotherapy to restore effective and long-lasting immune control.
8. Which countries do you anticipate phase 3 trials to occur? Do you anticipate trials in the U.S?
Replicor believes that the combination of therapy with NUCs such as TDF and ETV, pegIFN and REP 2139-Mg will be the first available therapy to offer patients a real chance of eliminating the need for therapy and establishing functional control of their HBV infection and normalizing their liver function. Work is ongoing to start a phase II US trial in collaboration with the Aids Clinical Trials Group as soon as possible. We are also planning to assess other immunotherapies, the effectiveness of which we believe will be similarly improved with HBsAg clearance as we have demonstrated for pegIFN.
9. With regard to hepatitis delta, is there a difference in the mechanism for how it works?
REP 2139 is also potently active against HDV infection and is able to rapidly eliminate HDV RNA, normalize liver function and reverse the liver inflammation associated with HBV / HDV co-infection. The completed follow-up results from our long term follow-up study of co-infected participants treated with REP 2139 and pegIFN show complete control of HDV infection at 3.5 years follow-up in the absence of all therapy in a large proportion of patients. In many patients this control of HDV infection was associated with functional cure of HBV and in some patients with virologic control of HBV. This potent effect against HDV infection is assumed to be driven not only from the effect of REP 2139 on SVP (which also forms the envelope of the HDV virus) but on the ability of REP 2139 to interact with different forms of the hepatitis delta antigen protein essential for HDV replication and assembly.
Thank you to Dr. Vaillant for taking the time to talk to us about REP 2139. The results look promising! We look forward to learning more from continuing and new trials with REP 2139, used alone and in combination with antivirals and immune modulators. We know the hepatitis B virus is challenging, but those living with chronic HBV look forward to a day when there are therapies resulting in a durable loss of surface antigen and sustained viral suppression in a reasonable, finite amount of time.
Eiger is currently working on two new drugs for hepatitis delta; Lonafarnib and Pegylated Interferon Lambda, which are both currently inphase 3 clinical trials. Lonafarnib is a new type of treatment that attempts to control hepatitis delta through a new method: through blocking a key enzyme that is needed for the hepatitis delta virus to replicate. Blocking this enzyme prevents a new virus from being created, which may control and even cure hepatitis delta.
Lambda is being developed as a better tolerated interferon compared to interferon alfa (IFN alfa). Interferons work by stimulating the body’s own immune system to fight the virus. Pegylated interferon alpha, which is the only current treatment for hepatitis delta, is a difficult treatment to tolerate, with many patients experiencing unpleasant side-effects. Lambda utilizes the same method of treatment as IFN alfa, in combination with a new strategy, which stimulates an immune response and targets receptors in the liver, which may reduce side effects and result in improved tolerability.
Below is Eiger Biopharmaceuticals’ response to a series of questions we posed to them.
1. Lambda is an immunomodulator and Lonafarnib is a prenylation inhibitor. Can you explain in laymen’s terms the mechanism for these drugs and how they work?
Eiger’s wording: Lonafarnib is a well-characterized, first-in-class, orally active inhibitor of an enzyme that is key to a vital process in the life cycle of HDV. Inhibiting this enzyme blocks the ability of HDV to assemble and package viral particles. Currently approved nucleos(t)ide treatments for HBV only suppress HBV DNA, do not affect HBsAg, and have no impact on HDV infection.
Lambda is being developed as a better tolerated interferon compared to interferon alfa (IFN alfa). Lambda is a well-characterized, first-in-class, type III interferon (IFN) that stimulates immune responses that are critical for the development of host protection during viral infections. By targeting receptors that are localized in the liver, Lambda treatment may reduce side effects and result in improved tolerability .
Can you share, in simple terms, the basic results of Eiger phase 3 studies for hepatitis delta trials? Are these drugs equally effective in HBeAg positive and negative HBV patients?
The Eiger Phase 2 LOWR program with Lonafarnib has been completed. Over 120 patients were dosed in Phase 2 dose-finding studies to identify combination regimens of lonafarnib (LNF) and ritonavir (RTV) with and without pegylated interferon-alfa (PEG IFN α), with efficacy and tolerability to enable viral load suppression of HDV RNA and ALT normalization at Week 24.
Dosing regimens of LNF 50 mg twice daily + RTV 100 mg twice daily with and without PEG IFN-a-2a 180 mcg once weekly were identified with the following reported results:
All-oral: Lonafarnib boosted with ritonavir
29% of patients achieved ≥ 2 log decline and ALT normalization
Combination: Lonafarnib boosted with ritonavir + PEG IFN-a-2a
63% of patients achieved ≥ 2 log decline and ALT normalization
These dosing arms are being further studied in the global Phase 3 D-LIVR study. Phase 2 studies have not been stratified by HBeAg status.
The D-LIVR Study, a Phase 3 pivotal trial, is on-going and evaluating the safety and efficacy of lonafarnib treatments in patients chronically infected with Hepatitis Delta Virus (HDV). Topline Week 48 data will be available in 2021.
2. How will Lambda and Lonafarnib be administered to patients?
Lonafarnib capsules are administered orally twice daily by mouth. Lonafarnib is taken in combination with ritonavir, a therapeutic booster that increases the bioavailability of lonafarnib. Ritonavir tablets are administered orally twice daily by mouth.
Pegylated interferon-lambda is administered as a self-administered subcutaneous injection once weekly.
3. Do you anticipate combination therapy will be needed and if so, which combinations do you anticipate?
No form of viral hepatitis has been cured with a single drug. Combinations of treatments with different mechanism of actions have always been required.
Lonafarnib and interferons have different mechanisms of action and have been studied as monotherapies and in combination together as treatments for HDV. While each treatment alone reduces the HDV viral load, combination studies have shown that using these treatments together leads to a synergistic effect and further reduces the HDV viral load.
Recently, the interim end of treatment results of peginterferon lambda (Lambda) and lonafarnib combination study in HDV-infected patients were presented at AASLD 2019. The LIFT study is being conducted within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). LIFT is a Phase 2a open-label study of 26 adult patients with chronic HDV treated with Lambda 180 mcg once weekly in combination with Lonafarnib 50 mg twice daily boosted with ritonavir 100 mg twice daily for 24 weeks. Primary efficacy endpoint is > 2 log HDV RNA decline at end of treatment. At the time of analysis, 19 of 26 patients had reached Week 24. Median HDV RNA decline was 3.4 log IU/mL (IQR: 2.9-4.5, p<0.0001) with 53% (10 of 19) patients achieving below the limit of quantification and 37% (7 of 19) patients achieving undetectable HDV RNA at Week 24. 18 of 19 patients (95%) achieved primary endpoint of > 2 log decline during 24 weeks of therapy. We believe these data are the most encouraging yet in pursuit of HDV cure.
4. What kind of side effects can patients expect with Lambda and Lonafarnib, with or without combination therapy?
The most common side effects of lonafarnib include diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, decreased appetite, vomiting, abdominal pain, and decreased weight. Antacid, antiemetic, and antidiarrheal medications may be used prophylactically to treat these gastrointestinal side effects.
The most common side effects of pegylated interferon-lambda (Lambda) are the expected side effects of interferons. However, these side effects have been demonstrated to be much milder and less severe than what has been previously been shown with pegylated interferon-alfa (alfa). These include musculoskeletal (myalgia, arthralgia, and back pain), flu-like symptoms (chills, pyrexia, and pain) and elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels.
A combination of these side effects is expected with combination therapy.
5. Are Lambda and Lonafarnib safe for use in people with cirrhosis?
Currently, the safety and efficacy of lonafarnib and pegylated interferon-lambda are being investigated in persons chronically infected with HDV. The clinical trials require study participants meet certain eligibility criteria to be included in these studies. These eligibility criteria may or may not reflect the type of patient who will use these therapies after they receive FDA approval.
Phase 2 and Phase 3 studies both include patients with well-compensated cirrhosis.
6. With a clearance of HDV, would you also anticipate a loss of surface antigen – functional cure for chronic HBV as well? If so, in what percentage of HBeAg and HBeAb patients?
HDV is always found as a co-infection with HBV because HDV requires just a small amount of HBV surface antigen (HBsAg) to complete HDV viron replication. However, an HDV / HBV coinfection leads to much more severe chronic viral hepatitis compared to HBV monoinfection alone. Therefore, it is important to treat HDV, even if HBV is not cured. It is possible to clear HDV RNA without loss of HBsAg.
7. Lambda and Lonafarnib are currently in phase 3 trials for delta. Are you able to provide an approximate timeline for when it will be approved for use in U.S. and Europe?
Eiger BioPharmaceuticals is committed to developing safe and effective therapies for HDV and providing patients with a pathway to gain access to approved therapies as quickly as possible.
The D-LIVR Study is a global study that is evaluating the safety and efficacy of lonafarnib treatment in patients chronically infected with HDV. The D-LIVR Study is recruiting subjects in up to 20 countries in over 100 study sites. The D-LIVR study includes 48 weeks of treatment with two different lonafarnib-based treatment regimens, followed by 24 weeks of follow-up. Primary endpoint is ≥ 2 log decline and ALT normalization at Week 48. Topline data from the Phase 3 D-LIVR study will be available in 2021. For more information about study locations and eligibility, please visit www.clinicaltrials.gov (NCT03719313).
End of Phase 2 meeting with FDA to discuss Phase 3 development with Lambda monotherapy is planned for Q1 2020.
For people who have been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B and delta coinfection, a low or undetectable hepatitis B viral load does not usually indicate that they’ve cleared both infections. This is because, in cases of coinfection, hepatitis delta usually becomes the dominant virus, and suppresses hepatitis B, slowing or even stopping its replication entirely. If someone is still positive for the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), the hepatitis delta virus can still replicate (often with copies in the millions) and cause potential liver damage 1. For this reason, the test to measure hepatitis delta activity, the HDV RNA test, is important in disease monitoring and management 2,3. Available since 2013, the HDV RNA test can be acquired internationally through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and from several labs in the US.
For those suspected of having acute hepatitis B and delta coinfection, HBsAg testing should follow 6 months after initial diagnosis. If HBsAg is negative (non-reactive), both infections are likely to have cleared.It’s important to remember that people who contract hepatitis B and delta during one exposure are likely to clear both viruses. If HBsAg is positive (reactive) after 6 months, both infections are likely chronic (life-long).Those who are known to have a chronic hepatitis B infectionand then become infected with hepatitis delta later on, they are likely to develop chronic coinfections.
Following diagnosis with hepatitis B, with or without delta coinfection, it is important to have close, household contacts and sexual partners screened, and to follow simple prevention measures and practice safe sex using condoms.
As of 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires over 100 diseases, infections and conditions – including hepatitis A, B and C – to be reported by state and local health departments. Physicians who diagnose these conditions, and diagnostic laboratories, are required to report confirmed and/or suspected cases to health departments, who then notify the CDC. This requirement allows the government to monitor disease patterns and track outbreaks to contain the spread of disease and protect the public. While all other forms of viral hepatitis are federally ‘reportable’, hepatitis delta cases are not required to be reported. Hepatitis delta is the most severe form of viral hepatitis, and spreads similarly to hepatitis B; through blood and sexual fluids, making it a public health threat, particularly for the 2.2 million people who already have hepatitis B in the U.S.
Hepatitis delta can only be contracted along with hepatitis B or after someone is already infected with hepatitis B. Acute cases can cause liver damage and even liver failure, and in chronic cases, can accelerate the rate of liver disease progression, as there are no effective treatments available. Although estimated to affect 5-10% of hepatitis B patients, hepatitis delta is severely underdiagnosed, leaving the true disease burden largely unknown in the U.S. and worldwide.
In conjunction with awareness efforts, adding hepatitis delta as a reportable disease could reveal a more accurate prevalence landscape of hepatitis B and delta coinfection and allow for more effective prevention efforts. The CDC asserts that “reporting of cases of infectious diseases and related conditions has been and remains a vital step in controlling and preventing the spread of communicable diseases,1” yet hepatitis delta has still been left out of the list of nationally reportable diseases. While notifying CDC is only voluntary2, 23 states have designated hepatitis delta infections as reportable to local and state health departments, allowing for surveillance of outbreaks, particularly relevant to the current nationwide opioid crisis.
Worchester, Massachusetts, which is currently experiencing a hepatitis A outbreak, also saw one of the worst hepatitis delta outbreaks in the country in the mid 1980’s. The infection was seen among drug users and their sexual partners, sickened 135 people, and killed 15. In those infected with hepatitis B, delta coinfection was present in 54% of drug users and 33% of their sexual partners3
. Interestingly, in Massachusetts, only labs (and not clinicians) are required to report hepatitis delta cases. The reporting requirement allowed the state to be alerted of a spike in cases and respond accordingly – a luxury many other states may not have if neither labs nor clinicians are required to report in their state.
Some states are even scaling back their surveillance; in 2016, New York State removed hepatitis delta from their list of reportable diseases, citing just 21 cases in a two-year period and a health code that asserts a “providers obligation” to “report unusual manifestations of novel strains of hepatitis.”4. Although hepatitis delta is more common outside the U.S., there is evidence to suggest persistent and even growing prevalence. A 2016 prevalence map presented by Eiger BioPharmaceuticals revealed New York City as a “hot-spot” for hepatitis delta cases5. Although more recent prevalence studies are sparse, and often include only small sample sizes, several have noted increases in hepatitis delta coinfection among certain groups. One study in Baltimore, published in 2010, compared blood samples from drug users in the 1980’s to samples obtained from 2005-2006 – and found a 21% increase in hepatitis delta coinfection among people already chronically infected with hepatitis B6. A 2015 study analyzed the blood records of 2,100 hepatitis B positive veterans – nearly 4% were coinfected7. A larger study, analyzing chart records of 500 chronic hepatitis B patients in California found that 8% of patients had a delta coinfection8. Another 2018 publication utilized data from 2011-2016 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and estimated there to be over 350,000 Americans with past or current hepatitis delta9.
While the true burden of hepatitis delta in the U.S. is debated, one study that analyzed diagnosis codes for over 170 million people showed 10,000 coinfected patients newly diagnosed in 2016 alone4. The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) recommends delta testing in high-risk groups, but countless journals and leading hepatologists have called for universal testing of hepatitis B patients for hepatitis delta9,10,11 which could reveal thousands of unknown infections. Low awareness, testing, and the lack of inclusion on the notifiable diseases list contribute to the unclear picture of prevalence in the U.S. Inconsistent reporting across states creates holes in data collection and opportunities for missed outbreaks and subsequent treatment and prevention efforts. Adding hepatitis delta to the list of reportable diseases nationally could be the key to understanding who this ‘hidden epidemic’ is affecting, and where, and allow for effective surveillance to prevent future infections.
For more information about Hepatitis Delta Connect or hepatitis delta, visit www.hepdconnect.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (1990, June 22). Mandatory Reporting of Infectious Diseases by Clinicians. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00001665.htm.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). National notifiable diseases surveillance system (NNDS): Data collection and reporting. Retrieved from https://wwwn.cdc.gov/nndss/data-collection.html
3. Lettau, L. A., McCarthy, J. G., Smith, M. H., Hauler, S. C., Morse, L. J., Ukena, T., et al. (1987). Outbreak of severe hepatitis due to delta and hepatitis B viruses in parenteral drug abusers and their contacts. N Engl J Med, 317(20), 1256-1262.
4. The City of New York. (2016). Hepatitis D and E and other suspected infectious viral hepatitides reporting. Retrieved from http://rules.cityofnewyork.us/tags/reportable-diseases.
5. Martins, E and Glenn, J. Prevalence of Hepatitis Delta Virus (HDV) Infection in the United States: Results from an ICD-10 Review. Poster Sa1486 DDW May 2017.
6. Lauren M. Kucirka, Homayoon Farzadegan, Jordan J. Feld, Shruti H. Mehta, Mark Winters, Jeffrey S. Glenn, Gregory D. Kirk, Dorry L. Segev, Kenrad E. Nelson, Morgan Marks, Theo Heller, Elizabeth T. Golub, Prevalence, Correlates, and Viral Dynamics of Hepatitis Delta among Injection Drug Users, The Journal of Infectious Diseases, Volume 202, Issue 6, 15 September 2010, Pages 845–852.
7. Kushner, T., Serper, M., & Kaplan, D. E. (2015). Delta hepatitis within the veterans affairs medical system in the United States: Prevalence, risk factors, and outcomes.
8. Gish, Robert & Yi, Debbie & Kane, Steve & Clark, Margaret & Mangahas, Michael & Baqai, Sumbella & A Winters, Mark & Proudfoot, James & Glenn, Jeffrey. (2013). Coinfection with Hepatitis B and D: Epidemiology, Prevalence and Disease in Patients in Northern California. Journal of gastroenterology and hepatology. 28. 10.1111/jgh.12217
With five different types of viral hepatitis, it can be difficult to understand the differences between them. Some forms of hepatitis get more attention than others, but it is still important to know how they are transmitted, what they do, and the steps that you can take to protect yourself and your liver!
This is part one in a three-part series.
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis means “inflammation of the liver”. A liver can become inflamed for many reasons, such as too much alcohol, physical injury, autoimmune response, or a reaction to bacteria or a virus. The five most common hepatitis viruses are A, B, C, D, and E. Some hepatitis viruses can lead to fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver failure, or even liver cancer. Damage to the liver reduces its ability to function and makes it harder for your body to filter out toxins.
Both hepatitis B and C are blood-borne pathogens, which means that their primary mode of transmission is through direct blood-to-blood contact with an infected person. Also, both hepatitis B and C can cause chronic, lifelong infections that can lead to serious liver disease. Hepatitis B is most commonly spread from mother-to-child during birth while hepatitis C is more commonly spread through the use of unclean needles used to inject drugs.
Hepatitis B vs. Hepatitis C
Despite having an effective vaccine, hepatitis B is the world’s most common liver infection; over 292 million people around the world are estimated to be living with chronic hepatitis B. While hepatitis C tends to get more attention and research funding, hepatitis B is considerably more common and causes more liver-related cancer and death worldwide than hepatitis C. Combined, chronic hepatitis B and C account for approximately 80% of the world’s liver cancer cases. However, studies show that those with chronic hepatitis B are more likely to die from liver-related complications than those who are infected with hepatitis C. With hepatitis C, most people develop cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, before liver cancer. In certain cases of hepatitis B, liver cancer can develop without any signs of cirrhosis, which makes it extremely difficult to predict the virus’ impacts on the body, and makes screening for liver cancer more complicated.
The hepatitis B virus is also approximately 5-10 times more infectious than hepatitis C, and far more stable. It can survive – and remain highly contagious – on surfaces outside of the body for up to 7 days if it is not properly cleaned with a disinfectant or a simple bleach solution. A new study suggests that the hepatitis B virus has the ability to survive in extreme temperatures, whereas the hepatitis C virus has been known to survive outside of the body for a short period of time on room-temperature surfaces. However, more research will need to be done on the topic.
Another major difference between the two forms of hepatitis is how the virus attacks a cell. The hepatitis C virus operates like other viruses; it enters a healthy cell and produces copies of itself that
go on to infect other healthy cells. The hepatitis B virus reproduces in a similar fashion, but with one large difference – covalently closed circular DNA. Covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA) is a structure that is unique to only a few viruses. Unlike a typical virus, hepatitis B’s cccDNA permanently integrates itself into a healthy cell’s DNA – a component of the cell that allows it to function properly and produce more healthy cells. The cccDNA resides within an essential area of the cell called the nucleus and can remain there even if an infected person’s hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) levels are undetectable. Its presence means that a person with chronic hepatitis B may have a risk of reactivation even if the HBsAg levels have been undetectable for a long period of time. The complex nature and integration process of cccDNA contributes to the difficulties of finding a cure for hepatitis B. The cccDNA’s location inside of the nucleus is especially troublesome because it makes it difficult to isolate and destroy the cccDNA without harming the rest of the cell.
Hepatitis C, on the other hand, has a cure! Approved by the FDA in 2013, the cure is in the form of an antiviral pill that is taken once a day over the course of 8-12 weeks. For hepatitis C, a cure is defined as a sustained virologic response (SVR), which means that the virus is not detected in a person’s blood 3 months after treatment has been completed. In the United States, an affordable, generic version of the hepatitis C cure is set to be released by Gilead Sciences, Inc. in January 2019.
People living with chronic hepatitis B are susceptible to hepatitis Delta. Only people with hepatitis B can contract hepatitis D as well. Hepatitis Delta is considered to be the most severe form of hepatitis because of its potential to quickly lead to more serious liver disease than hepatitis B alone. Of the 292 million people living with chronic hepatitis B, approximately 15-20 million are also living with hepatitis D. Unlike HIV and hepatitis C coinfections, there are currently no FDA approved treatments for hepatitis Delta. However, there are ongoing clinical trials that are researching potential treatments!
Hepatitis B/C Coinfection
It is possible to have both hepatitis B and C at the same time. The hepatitis C virus may appear more dominant and reduce hepatitis B to low or undetectable levels in the bloodstream. Prior to curative treatment for hepatitis C, it is important for people to get tested for hepatitis B using the three-part blood test (HBsAg, anti-HBc total and anti-HBs). People currently infected with hepatitis B (HBsAg positive) or those who have recovered from past infection (HBsAg negative and anti-HBc positive) should be carefully managed according to the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) treatment guidelines in order to avoid dangerous elevation of liver enzymes resulting in liver damage.
How to Protect Yourself
The hepatitis B vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your family against hepatitis B. Although there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, you can protect yourself from both liver infections by following simple precautions! Simple steps such as not sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes, thoroughly washing your hands, and disinfecting surfaces that have been in contact with blood, can keep your liver healthy!
What is the standard treatment for hepatitis delta and how long is it taken?
Although there are no standard guidelines for the treatment of hepatitis delta, pegylated interferon has been shown to be effective for some patients. It is usually administered via weekly injections for 1 year or more and is able to cure roughly 15-40% depending on the length of time that treatment is administered. Although many patients see declines in their hepatitis delta virus levels, most do not maintain long-term control following the conclusion of treatment.
Can pregnant hepatitis delta patients be treated with interferon?
Interferon has not been proven to be safe for administration during pregnancy and should not be administered. It may be harmful to the baby.
What is the best way to manage a hepatitis delta infection during pregnancy, if interferon cannot be used?
A liver specialist may continue to manage the hepatitis B infection during pregnancy through antiviral treatment. The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) recommends antiviral treatment during the third trimester of pregnancy for women with high hepatitis B viral loads.
How can hepatitis B and delta transmission be prevented to the baby?
Because a hepatitis B infection is required for someone to become infected with hepatitis delta, transmission from mother to child can be prevented with the hepatitis B vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines recommend the first dose within 12 hours of birth, along with and a dose of HBIG (hepatitis B immunoglobulin), followed by the additional 2 vaccine shots; one at 1 month and the final one at 6 months old. The vaccine, along with HBIG and hepatitis B antiviral treatment (if necessary) greatly reduce the risk of transmission to the baby. In resource-limited countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth, followed by the additional shots on the recommended schedule. Once the vaccination series is completed, the baby should be protected for life against hepatitis B and delta.
If hepatitis delta cannot be treated during pregnancy, do most women have progression of their liver disease during pregnancy?
While some women may see progression of their liver disease, due to the relative short length of pregnancy, most women do not show clinical signs of advancing liver disease.
What treatment should follow delivery?
Following delivery, the mother may resume interferon treatment as long as she is not breastfeeding. Interferon treatment while breastfeeding could be harmful to the baby. As for all patients, keeping up-to-date on the latest hepatitis delta clinical trials could provide access to new, experimental treatments that may be more effective. For a global list of clinical trials for hepatitis delta, visit the clinicaltrials.govweb page.
It is very important for all pregnant women who are hepatitis B and delta positive to be managed by a liver specialist who is familiar with managing coinfected patients. For assistance in locating a specialist near you, please visit our Physician Directory page. For additional questions, please visit www.hepdconnect.org or email email@example.com.