Treatment guidelines for chronic hepatitis B (CHB) do not recommend antiviral therapy for patients in the immune-tolerant phase of the disease, which generally occurs in children who acquire hepatitis B virus (HBV) vertically and may last for decades. On the basis of promising results of a pilot study, we conducted a randomized, controlled, multicenter study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of antiviral therapy in children and adolescents with immune-tolerant CHB.
Fifty-nine children aged 3 to <18 years hepatitis B e antigen-positive with an HBV DNA titer >20,000 IU/mL and persistently normal alanine aminotransferase levels were randomized to 56 weeks of antiviral therapy with an oral nucleoside analogue [entecavir or lamivudine], combined with subcutaneous peginterferon alfa-2a from week 8, or 80 weeks of untreated observation. The primary efficacy outcome was hepatitis B surface antigen loss 24 weeks post-treatment in the antiviral therapy group or at the end of observation in the control group.
Enrollment was terminated after the results of two similar studies showed that similar antiviral regimens were ineffective in children and adults with immune-tolerant CHB. At 24 weeks post-treatment, 1 of 26 patients in the antiviral treatment group experienced HBsAg loss (vs none of 33 patients in the control group). No serious treatment-related adverse events were reported, and no patients discontinued treatment because of adverse events.
The antiviral regimen evaluated in this trial had an acceptable tolerability profile, but was ineffective in children and adolescents with immune-tolerant CHB.