Background: Hepatitis B virus RNA (HBV-RNA) is a novel serum biomarker that correlates with transcription of intrahepatic covalently closed circular (cccDNA), which is an important target for pegylated interferon (PEG-IFN) and novel therapies for functional cure. We studied HBV-RNA kinetics following PEG-IFN treatment and its potential role as a predictor to response in HBeAg-negative chronic hepatitis B (CHB) patients.
Methods: HBV-RNA levels were measured in 133 HBeAg-negative CHB patients treated in an international randomized controlled trial (PARC study). Patients received PEG-IFN α-2a for 48 weeks. HBV-RNA was measured from baseline through week 144. Response was defined as HBV-DNA <2000 IU/mL and ALT normalization at week 72. Kinetics of HBV-RNA were compared with HBV-DNA, HBsAg, and HBcrAg.
Results: Mean HBV-RNA at baseline was 4.4 (standard deviation [SD] 1.2) log10 c/mL. At week 12, HBV-RNA declined by -1.6 (1.1) log10 c/mL. HBV-RNA showed a greater decline in responders compared to nonresponders early at week 12 (-2.0 [1.2] vs -1.5 [1.1] log10 c/mL, P = .04). HBV-RNA level above 1700 c/mL (3.2 log10 c/mL) had a negative predictive value of 91% at week 12 and 93% at week 24 (P = .01) for response. Overall, HBV-RNA showed a stronger correlation with HBV-DNA and HBcrAg (.82 and .80, P < .001) and a weak correlation with HBsAg (.25). At week 12, HBV-RNA was significantly lower among patients with lower HBsAg (<100 IU/mL) or HBsAg loss at week 144.
Conclusions: During PEG-IFN treatment for HBeAg-negative CHB, HBV-RNA showed a fast and significant decline that correlates with treatment response and HBsAg loss at long-term follow-up.
Clinical trials registration: NCT00114361.
Keywords: Serum biomarkers; cccDNA; finite treatments; treatment response.
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