Background & aims: To evaluate the hypothesis that increasing T cell frequency and activity may provide durable control of hepatitis B virus (HBV), we administered nivolumab, a programmed death receptor 1 (PD-1) inhibitor, with or without GS-4774, an HBV therapeutic vaccine, in virally suppressed patients with HBV e antigen (HBeAg)-negative chronic HBV.
Methods: In a phase Ib study, patients received either a single dose of nivolumab at 0.1 mg/kg (n = 2) or 0.3 mg/kg (n = 12), or 40 yeast units of GS-4774 at baseline and week 4 and 0.3 mg/kg of nivolumab at week 4 (n = 10). The primary efficacy endpoint was mean change in HBV surface antigen (HBsAg) 12 weeks after nivolumab. Safety and immunologic changes were assessed through week 24.
Results: There were no grade 3 or 4 adverse events or serious adverse events. All assessed patients retained T cell PD-1 receptor occupancy 6-12 weeks post-infusion, with a mean total across 0.1 and 0.3 mg/kg cohorts of 76% (95% CI 75-77), and no significant differences were observed between cohorts (p = 0.839). Patients receiving 0.3 mg/kg nivolumab without and with GS-4774 had mean declines of -0.30 (95% CI -0.46 to -0.14) and -0.16 (95% CI -0.33 to 0.01) log10 IU/ml, respectively. Patients showed significant HBsAg declines from baseline (p = 0.035) with 3 patients experiencing declines of >0.5 log10 by the end of study. One patient, whose HBsAg went from baseline 1,173 IU/ml to undetectable at week 20, experienced an alanine aminotransferase flare (grade 3) at week 4 that resolved by week 8 and was accompanied by a significant increase in peripheral HBsAg-specific T cells at week 24.
Conclusions: In virally suppressed HBeAg-negative patients, checkpoint blockade was well-tolerated and led to HBsAg decline in most patients and sustained HBsAg loss in 1 patient.
Lay summary: Chronic hepatitis B virus infection (CHB) is characterized by a dysfunctional immune response. In patients with CHB, inhibitory receptors, such as programmed death receptor 1 (PD-1) are overexpressed on T cells, leading to an ineffective immune response in the liver. Herein, we show that the PD-1 inhibitor, nivolumab, is safe and effective for the treatment of virally suppressed patients with CHB. Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (http://www.anzctr.org.au/) number: ACTRN12615001133527.
Keywords: Chronic hepatitis B; GS-4774; HBV; Immune-checkpoint inhibitors; Immunology; Nivolumab; Receptor occupancy; T cell response.
Copyright © 2019. Published by Elsevier B.V.