Withdrawal of Long-Term Nucleotide Analog Therapy in Chronic Hepatitis B: Outcomes From the Withdrawal Phase of the HBRN Immune Active Treatment Trial

Am J Gastroenterol. 2023 Jul 1;118(7):1226-1236. doi: 10.14309/ajg.0000000000002176. Epub 2023 Jan 13.


Introduction: Withdrawal of nucleos(t)ide analog therapy is increasingly being evaluated in chronic hepatitis B infection as a strategy to induce hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) loss. The Hepatitis B Research Network Immune-Active Trial evaluated treatment with tenofovir (TDF) for 4 years ± an initial 6 months of peginterferon-α (PegIFN) (NCT01369212) after which treatment was withdrawn.

Methods: Eligible participants (hepatitis B e antigen [HBeAg]-/anti-HBe+, hepatitis B virus [HBV] DNA <10 3 IU/mL, no cirrhosis) who discontinued TDF were followed for at least 1 year with optional follow-up thereafter. Retreatment was based on predefined criteria.

Results: Among 201 participants who received 4 years of treatment, 97 participants (45 TDF and 52 TDF + PegIFN arm, 79 Asian) discontinued TDF. HBsAg loss occurred in 5 participants, 2 within 25 weeks and 3 within 89-119 weeks postwithdrawal (cumulative rate 4.3% by 2 years). Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) flares (>5× upper limit of normal) after TDF withdrawal occurred in 36 (37.1%) participants and occurred more frequently and earlier in those HBeAg- compared with HBeAg+ at treatment initiation. ALT flares were associated with older age and higher HBV DNA pretreatment and at the visit before the flare. ALT flares were not significantly associated with HBsAg decline or loss but were associated with immune active disease at 1 year (70.6% vs 11.9%, P < 0.0001) and 2 years (66.7% vs 25.9%, P = 0.03) postwithdrawal. Treatment reinitiation was required in 13 (13.4%) participants, and 13 others remained in a sustained inactive carrier state by the end of the study follow-up. No criteria reliably predicted safe treatment withdrawal.

Discussion: Results from this trial do not support TDF withdrawal as a therapeutic strategy. HBsAg loss was infrequent within 2 years of stopping long-term TDF. If withdrawal is considered, HBV DNA should be carefully monitored with reinitiation of therapy if levels rise above 4 log 10 IU/mL to reduce the risk of ALT flares, as they were not associated with subsequent HBsAg decline or loss.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • DNA, Viral
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens
  • Hepatitis B e Antigens
  • Hepatitis B virus / genetics
  • Hepatitis B, Chronic*
  • Humans
  • Nucleotides / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens
  • Hepatitis B e Antigens
  • DNA, Viral
  • Nucleotides
  • Antiviral Agents

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01369212