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Does Hepatitis Delta Increase My Risk for Liver Cancer?

 

 

 

 

 

The short answer is, possibly.  Although there is extensive research to support the role of hepatitis delta in accelerating the risk for progression to cirrhosis (liver scarring) compared to hepatitis B infection (1,2) only, strong data directly linking an increase in risk for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is lacking. It is known that coinfection promotes continually progressing inflammation within the liver by inducing a strong immune response within the body; where it essentially attacks itself (3), but the specific role of hepatitis delta in HCC isn’t fully understood. It gets complicated because although cirrhosis is usually present in hepatitis B patients who also have HCC, but scientists have not pinpointed a specific way that the virus may impact cancer development (4). There have been some small studies that have documented a correlation between hepatitis delta and an increase in HCC, but some analysis’s have even called the extent of its involvement in HCC as ‘controversial’ (5). However, other scientific studies may suggest the contrary.

Because hepatitis delta cannot survive without hepatitis B, and doesn’t integrate into the body the same way, it may not be directly responsible for cancer development, but it has been suggested that the interactions between the two viruses may play a role (6). It has also been suggested that hepatitis delta may play a role in genetic changes, DNA damage, immune response and the activation of certain proteins within the body – similarly to hepatitis B and may amplify the overall cancer risk (7,8). One of these theories even suggests that hepatitis delta inactivates a gene responsible for tumor suppression, meaning it may actually promotes tumor development, a process that has been well-documented in HCC cases (9,10).

Regardless of the specific impact or increase in risk for HCC due to the hepatitis delta virus, hepatitis B is known to increase someone’s risk, with 50-60% of all HCC globally attributable to hepatitis B (11). People with hepatitis delta coinfection still need to be closely monitored by a liver specialist, as 70% of people with both viruses will develop cirrhosis within 5-10 years (12). Monitoring may be blood testing and a liver ultrasound to screen for HCC every 6 months. Closer monitoring may be required if cirrhosis is already present, or to monitor response to treatment (interferon).

For more information about hepatitis delta, visit www.hepdconnect.org.

References:

  1. Manesis EK, Vourli G, Dalekos G. Prevalence and clinical course of hepatitis delta infection in Greece: A 13-year prospective study. J Hepatol. 2013;59:949–956.
  2. Coghill S, McNamara J, Woods M, Hajkowicz K. Epidemiology and clinical outcomes of hepatitis delta (D) virus infection in Queensland, Australia. Int J Infect Dis. 2018;74:123–127.
  3. Zhang Z, Filzmayer C, Ni Y. Hepatitis D virus replication is sensed by MDA5 and induces IFN-β/λ responses in hepatocytes. J Hepatol. 2018;69:25–35.
  4. Nault JC. Pathogenesis of hepatocellular carcinoma according to aetiology. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2014;28:937–947.
  5. Puigvehí, M., Moctezuma-Velázquez, C., Villanueva, A., & Llovet, J. M. (2019). The oncogenic role of hepatitis delta virus in hepatocellular carcinoma. JHEP reports: innovation in hepatology, 1(2), 120–130.
  6. Romeo R, Petruzziello A, Pecheur EI, et al. Hepatitis delta virus and hepatocellular carcinoma: an update. Epidemiol Infect. 2018;146(13):1612‐1618.
  7. Majumdar A, Curley SA, Wu X. Hepatic stem cells and transforming growth factor β in hepatocellular carcinoma. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012;9:530–538.
  8. Mendes M, Pérez-Hernandez D, Vázquez J, Coelho AV, Cunha C. Proteomic changes in HEK-293 cells induced by hepatitis delta virus replication. J Proteomics. 2013;89:24–38.
  9. Chen M, Du D, Zheng W. Small Hepatitis Delta Antigen Selectively Binds to Target mRNA in Hepatic Cells: A Potential Mechanism by Which Hepatitis D Virus Down-Regulates Glutathione S-Transferase P1 and Induces Liver Injury and Hepatocarcinogenesis. Biochem Cell Biol. August 2018.
  10. Villanueva A, Portela A, Sayols S. DNA methylation-based prognosis and epidrivers in hepatocellular carcinoma. 2015;61:1945–1956.
  11. Hayashi PH, Di Bisceglie AM. The progression of hepatitis B- and C-infections to chronic liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma: epidemiology and pathogenesis. Med Clin North Am. 2005;89(2):371‐389.
  12. Abbas, Z., Abbas, M., Abbas, S., & Shazi, L. (2015). Hepatitis D and hepatocellular carcinoma. World journal of hepatology, 7(5), 777–786.

 

Eiger BioPharmaceuticals: Developing Two New Hepatitis Delta Treatments

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. 

Image courtesy of Praisaeng, at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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.

Hepatitis B Foundation: Now Part of the NORD Rare Disease Community!

We’re pleased to announce that the Hepatitis B Foundation (HBF) is now a member of NORD, the National Organization for Rare Disorders, representing our program, Hepatitis Delta Connect. NORD is a patient advocacy organization dedicated to individuals with rare diseases and the organizations that serve them. We will join 280 other patient organization members, all committed to the identification, treatment, and cure of rare disorders through programs of education, advocacy, research, and patient services.

Although globally, hepatitis delta is estimated to affect 15-20 million people, in the U.S. it is classified as a rare disease, as it is estimated to affect less than 200,000 people. The complicated nature of the virus and limited prioritization contribute to the gap in awareness, resources, testing practices and adequate treatments for hepatitis B and delta coinfection. Joining NORD will help amplify our voice, raise awareness about hepatitis delta in people living with chronic hepatitis B, provider and pharmaceutical communities and contribute to health policy efforts.

Hepatitis Delta Connect has previously been active with NORD through participating in rare disease Twitter chats and presenting a poster at the NORD Rare Action Summit in October 2018. We’re very excited to be a part of the coalition, and to be spreading awareness about hepatitis delta!

For more information about Hepatitis Delta Connect, visit www.hepdconnect.org or email connect@hepdconnect.org.

Hepatitis Delta: Coinfection vs. Superinfection

By Sierra Pellechio, Hepatitis Delta Connect Coordinator

Hepatitis delta is an aggressive form of hepatitis that can only exist alongside hepatitis B. This means that all hepatitis B patients are at risk for hepatitis delta, but so are people who have not received the hepatitis B vaccination series.

If contracted, 70-90% of people with chronic hepatitis B will go on to also develop a chronic hepatitis delta infection – called a “superinfection”. Approximately 70% of these cases will progress to cirrhosis (liver scarring), compared to 15-30% of those infected only with the hepatitis B virus.

Due to the likelihood of liver complications, hepatitis B patients should be aware of potential exposures to hepatitis delta. The virus is spread the same way as hepatitis B, through direct blood-to-blood contact and unprotected sex with an infected person. It is important to be aware that blood contact could also occur by exposure to unsafe blood transfusions, unsterile medical or dental equipment, and the sharing of razors or toothbrushes with an infected person due to the possibility of infected blood entering the body.

People who are not infected with hepatitis B may be at risk for “coinfection”, when someone contracts hepatitis B and delta simultaneously during one exposure. In these cases, greater than 90% of adults will clear both infections and develop protective antibodies. While a co-infection generally resolves spontaneously after about 6 months, it can sometimes result in a life-threatening or fatal liver failure.

The good news is that the hepatitis B vaccine series can prevent both viruses in people who are not already infected. Once completed, the vaccine can provide a lifetime of protection!

For more information about hepatitis B/delta coinfection, please visit www.hepdconnect.org or email us at connect@hepdconnect.org.

I Have Hepatitis B. Could I Also Be Infected with Hepatitis D?

By Sierra Pellechio, Hepatitis Delta Connect Coordinator

Hepatitis delta, or hepatitis D, is an aggressive form of hepatitis that can only infect someone who is also infected with hepatitis B.

People can become infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis D from the same exposure, or people who are already infected with hepatitis B can later be infected with hepatitis D. Coinfection can promote more rapid progression to cirrhosis and liver cancer than being infected with hepatitis B alone and will require an altered treatment and management plan. Being aware could save your life!

Hepatitis D can be spread similarly to hepatitis B, through exposure to blood or bodily fluids of an infected person. People with hepatitis B are likely to develop a chronic hepatitis delta coinfection if they are exposed to the virus, making it important for you and your doctor to be aware of the signs of a coinfection.

Cues to suspect a coinfection:

  • You have chronic hepatitis B but are not responding to antiviral treatment, or you have signs of liver damage even though your viral load is low (HBV DNA below 2,000 IU/mL)

Note: Fatty liver disease (caused by obesity) and liver damage from alcohol or environmental toxins should be ruled out as causes of liver damage before testing for hepatitis D.

It is also important for hepatitis B patients who originate from Sub-Saharan Africa, China, Russia, the Middle East, Mongolia, Romania, Georgia, Turkey, Pakistan and the Amazonian River Basin to be tested for hepatitis D, where it is more common. Most of the time, patients do not have any signs or symptoms to let them know they are coinfected, so a simple blood test is the only way to know for sure! Talk to your liver specialist about testing at your next appointment.

Hepatitis Delta Connect is a dedicated program of the Hepatitis B Foundation aimed to provide information and support for those affected by hepatitis D. Please visit our website, www.hepdconnect.org for more information and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to stay up to date on the latest hepatitis D news! If you are a patient or provider and have questions or concerns, please email us at connect@hepdconnect.org.

Check out our previous posts about hepatitis D here, here, and here.

Diagnosing Hepatitis D in the U.S.

Robert Gish, MD

David Hillyard, MD

By Sierra Pellechio, Hepatitis Delta Connect Coordinator

Hepatitis D, or hepatitis delta, is the most severe form of viral hepatitis known to humans. The hepatitis D virus infects the liver and is dependent on the hepatitis B virus to reproduce. This means that people who are already infected with hepatitis B are at risk of contracting hepatitis D as well.

Worldwide, more than 257 million people live with hepatitis B and of this number, an estimated 15-20 million are also infected with the hepatitis delta virus (HDV). While uncommon in the United States, HDV co-infection is more common in parts of the world such as China, Russia, Middle East, Mongolia, Romania, Georgia, Turkey, Pakistan, Africa, and the Amazonian river basin. For this reason, it is important to test hepatitis B patients who originate from these higher endemic areas for hepatitis D. Anyone with chronic hepatitis B who is not responding to antiviral treatment, or who has signs of liver damage even though they have a low viral load (HBV DNA below 2,000 IU/mL) should also be tested. Fatty liver disease (caused by obesity) and liver damage from alcohol or environmental toxins should be ruled out as causes of liver damage before testing for HDV.  Hepatitis D infections lead to more serious liver disease than hepatitis B infection alone. It is associated with faster progression to liver fibrosis, increased risk of liver cancer, and early decompensated cirrhosis and liver failure. This is why it is so important that people with hepatitis B and D coinfection are diagnosed before it can lead to severe complications.

Robert Gish, MD, Hepatitis B Foundation Medical Director, and David Hillyard, MD, Medical Director, Molecular Infectious Diseases, ARUP Laboratories, tackled the topic of diagnosing hepatitis D in a webinar in October. Dr. Gish also answered additional questions, which are featured below:

  • What is the first step in diagnosing an HDV patient?

The HDV antibody test (anti-HDV) is the first test that is run to see if a patient has been infected with hepatitis delta. Because this test will be positive even if a patient has cleared a hepatitis delta infection, it is followed up with an HDV RNA test, which determines an active infection. There is also an antibody test (anti-HDV igM) that can test for an acute active infection.

  • Are there tests available in the US that can detect the HDV genotypes or just genotype I?

Although there have been 8 genotypes of HDV identified, each with their own distinct progression outcomes, genotype testing in the US remains rare and often difficult to acquire.

  • What is the role of measuring HDV RNA in monitoring chronic HDV progression or response to treatment?

The most effective way to understand the progression of a hepatitis D infection is to use liver ultrasounds, elastrography and fibroscans. These tests can evaluate the health of the liver. Declining HDV RNA level usually indicates a positive response to treatment.

  • Is there value to testing patients for a disease for which there are not many treatments?

Because patients who are coinfected with B and D have twice the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer compared to monoinfected patients, it is an important diagnosis to make. Although there is currently only 1 treatment, lives are still being saved.

  • Should primary care providers be testing high-risk patients for HBV and HDV at the same time?

No, providers should only test patients who already have hepatitis B. One in twenty people with hepatitis B are thought to also be infected with hepatitis D. Bottom line: testing for hepatitis D is a simple blood test that could change the course of treatment and save your patient’s life!

If you do find out that you have hepatitis D, it can be overwhelming and scary. However, knowing the basics can help you manage your diagnosis. Through the Hepatitis B Foundation’s Hep Delta Connect program, you can get information on how to protect your loved ones, find a physician, and seek out support.

For more information, please click here or visit our Hepatitis Delta Connect program website. Please also contact Sierra Pellechio, the Program Manager for Hepatitis Delta Connect program at sierra.pellechio@hepb.org for any questions.