PEG-B-ACTIVE Study: Efficacy of Peginterferon for Children with Hep B

A recent randomized controlled, open-label study (S Wirth et al. Hepatology 2018; 68: 1681-94) examined the use of weekly peginterferon alfa-2a (PEG) in 161 children (3-18 yrs) with immune-active HBe-Ag-positive children.  The two main groups were for those without advanced fibrosis: a PEG group (n=101) and a placebo group (n=50).  A third group enrolled 10 patients with advanced fibrosis who all received PEG. The treatment period was 48 weeks with ongoing observation for an additional 24 weeks.

Key findings:

  • The PEG group had HBeAg seroconversion of  8% at 48 weeks and 26% at 72 weeks; the placebo group had HBeAg seroconversion of 6% at both timepoints. At 72 weeks, the odds ratio was 5.43 for the PEG group and P=0.0043.
  • HBsAg clearance rates were higher in the PEG group: 8.9% vs 0% in placebo group.
  • The authors showed response (loss of HBeAg) by age and those <5 years had the highest response 43% (6 of 14).  The rate of seroconversion was 30.2% in those <12 years compared with 20.8% in those ≥12 years.
  • The authors showed response (loss of HBeAg) those with ALT values between 2-<5 had the highest response of 35% (15 of 43).
  • Adverse events were frequent –among the 101 treated patients: 49 with pyrexia, 30 with headache, 19 with abdominal pain, 15 with influenza-like illness, 14 with vomiting, 61 with ALT >5 x ULN, 25 with ALT >10 x ULN, 19 with neutropenia (ANC <750), and two with self-limited increased thyroid-stimulating hormone. These were all much higher than in the placebo group

My take: This study does not answer the question about which treatment is optimal for hepatitis B in children–direct-acting antivirals (eg. entecavir, and tenofovir) or peginterferon.  It does shows that weekly peginterferon alfa-2a was associated with HBeAg seroconversion in 26% of recipients at week 72.  Although a high number of patients experienced adverse effects, there were no new safety signals identified.

Related blog posts:

View from Parker Ridge, near Banff

New Hepatitis B Treatment Guidelines

Link to full article: Updated Hepatitis B Treatment Guidelines from AASLD

With regard to pediatrics:

9A. The AASLD suggests antiviral therapy in HBeAg-positive children (ages 2 to <18 years) with both elevated ALT and measurable HBV DNA levels, with the goal of achieving sustained HBeAg seroconversion.

“Most studies required ALT elevation (>1.3 times ULN) for at least 6 months with HBV DNA elevations for inclusion. Given that HBV DNA levels are typically very high during childhood (>106 IU/mL), there is no basis for a recommendation for a lower-limit value with respect to treatment. However, if a level <104 IU/mL is observed, therapy might be deferred until other causes of liver disease and spontaneous HBeAg seroconversion are excluded.”

“Duration of treatment with oral antivirals that has been studied is 1-4 years. It may be prudent to use HBeAg seroconversion as a therapeutic endpoint when oral antivirals are used, continuing treatment for an additional 12 months of consolidation, as recommended in adults. It is currently unknown whether a longer duration of consolidation would reduce rates of virological relapse.”

“Children who stop antiviral therapy should be monitored every 3 months for at least 1 year for recurrent viremia, ALT flares, and clinical decompensation.”

9B. The AASLD recommends against use of antiviral therapy in HBeAg-positive children (ages 2 to <18 years) with persistently normal ALT, regardless of HBV DNA level.

Another nice summary of current treatment recommendations: P Martin et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2015; 13: 2071-87.  Table 5 lists recommendations for treatment of HBeAg-positive.

  • The main group needing treatment (entecavir, tenofovir, or PEGinterferon alfa-2a) are those with HBV DNA >2000 IU/mL and elevated ALT.  Table 6 lists recommendations for those with HBeAg-negative.  Main group needing treatment are the same (HBV DNA >2000 IU/mL and elevated ALT).
  • With both groups (HBe-Ag negative and positive), “consider liver biopsy or transient elastography” if elevated HBV DNA >2000 and normal ALT.  If histologic disease present, consider treatment.
  • One point the authors make about therapy regards duration: “Historically, HBeAg seroconversion was considered a durable response, and discontinuation of antiviral therapy was recommended after a period of consolidation therapy of 6-12 months from the time of HBeAg seroconversion. However, patients who discontinue therapy …can experience recurrent viremia and ALT flares.  Thus, long-term therapy is justified.”
  • For HBeAg negative patients who have compensated liver disease, loss of HBsAg for 6-12 months may be discontinued from therapy.

More HCV options -phase 3 for Sofosbuvir

The pace of research for HCV is incredible.  Two months ago phase 2 data for Sofosbuvir were reported and noted on this blog (More options for Hepatitis C | gutsandgrowth).  Now phase 3 data from multiple trials have emerged indicating the effectiveness of sofosbuvir for all HCV genotypes.

In the first study, NEJM 2013; 368: 1867-77, data from two trials (POSITRON and FUSION) of patients with HCV genotypes 2 and 3 are reported.  The POSITRON trial (63 sites, n=278 received treatment) was a blinded placebo-controlled study that evaluated 12 weeks of sofosbuvir/ribavirin compared with placebo in patients who discontinued interferon due to unacceptable adverse events or could not take interferon due to contraindications (most commonly psychiatric disorder or autoimmunity). Results: sustained virological response (SVR) in 78% of treatment group compared with 0% of placebo patients.  In addition, there was “complete concordance (100%) between rates of SVR at 12 weeks and at 24 weeks.”

The FUSION study (67 sites, n=201 received treatment) was a blinded, active-control study in patients who did not respond to a previous interferon-based regimen; one of two treatment regimens were administered: 12 weeks of sofosbuvir/ribavirin followed by placebo or 16 weeks of sofosbuvir/ribavirin. Results: 93% of genotype 2 patients had SVR and 61% of genotype 3 patients had SVR.  Among cirrhotic patients, 61% had SVR (94% of genotype 2, 21% of genotype 3); for those without cirrhosis, there was an 81% SVR (92% with genotype 2, 68% with genotype 3).  Thus, it is easy to conclude that genotype 3 patients with cirrhosis responded much less favorably.

Other important findings: rates of discontinuation among the treatment groups were similar to the placebo groups.  The most common adverse effect was anemia in the treatment groups.

In the second study, NEJM 2013; 368: 1878-87, an additional two phase 2 trials (NEUTRINO and FISSION) are reported from previously untreated chronic HCV patients.  The first trial (NEUTRINO) was an open-label study examining a 12-week regimen of sofosbuvir, peginterferon alfa-2a, and ribavirin in 327 HCV patients (98% genotypes 1 or 4).  Results: SVR noted in 90%. The second trial (FISSION) enrolled 499 patients with genotypes 2 and 3 who randomly received either peginterferon alfa-2a/ribavirin for 24 weeks or sofosbuvir/ribavirin for 12 weeks. Results: SVR noted to be 67% in both groups.  Genotype 2 patients again fared better than genotype 3 among the sofosbuvir/ribavirin group (97% versus 56%).  Some adverse events like fatigue, headache and nausea were common.  Overall, side effects were much lower in those not receiving peginterferon (see Table 3).

Take home message: From the editorial (pg 1931-32 in same issue): “a radical change in clinical practice is imminent…the low incidence of side effects, the relatively short duration of treatment, and the pangenotypic properties of the drugs are strong selling points of a sofosbuvir-ribavirin regimen and will probably lower the threshold for HCV treatment for both patients and physicians.”

Hopefully, we will see pediatric studies soon.

Related blog entries:

Pediatric HCV Guidelines

A useful recent article, ‘NASPGHAN Practice Guidelines for pediatric HCV’ (JPGN 2012; 54: 838-55) needs to be a handy reference.  However, given the rapid changes in the HCV field, it is likely that this reference will need to be updated soon to incorporate new information (eg. IL28b) as well as emerging therapies.


Epidemiology: 0.2% of children & 0.4% of adolescents are HCV-infected; primary mode is mother to child (vertical) transmission which occurs in 5-7% if mother not coinfected with HIV

Testing: For infants of HCV-infected mothers, check HCV antibody after 18 months or HCV RNA at younger ages.  Need two negative HCV RNAs to exclude infection (guidelines suggest checking 6 months apart).  Most individuals should be screened with antibody testing and confirmed with RNA test.

Screening for HCC (U/S, AFP): suggested only “for those with significant liver disease (ie. cirrhosis)” due to rarity of HCC in pediatric HCC.


  • Not if patient younger than 3 years
  • Probably Pegylated-interferon with ribavirin –references for pediatric studies indicate response rates of about 50% for genotype 1 and about 80% for types 2 & 3.
  • Who should be treated? Not always clear.  Probably those with elevated aminotransferases or progressive disease based on liver biopsy.  Possibly those with mild disease to eradicate virus.
  • Dosing: ribavirin  15/kg/day divided twice daily; weekly PEG-IFN-α-2a 180 microgram/1.73 m2 or weekly PEG-IFN-α-2b 60 microgram*m2

Treatment monitoring (Table 8):

  • CBC/diff, Hepatic panel, glucose 0, 1, 2, 4, 8, 12 weeks, then every  4-8 weeks
  • T4/TSH 0, 12, 24, 36, 48 weeks
  • Urine HCG 0, 24 weeks (if female >12 years)
  • Prothrombin, Urinalysis at week 0
  • HCV RNA 0, 24, 48, 72 weeks

Anticipatory Guidance: “no legal requirement” to disclose HCV infection in U.S.; however, CDC suggests revealing this information to sexual partners (

  • Avoid sharing toothbrush, shaving equipment with household contacts, unprotected sexual activity with multiple partners, tattooing/piercing
  • Do not need to screen household or casual contacts

Special issues:

  • Vaccines: HCV patients should receive all standard vaccines
  • Obesity and alcohol both can worsen the outcome
  • Fetal scalp probes and prolonged rupture of membranes but not route of delivery may increase risk of HCV transmission
  • Breastfeeding is not contraindicated but should be avoided during mastitis/bleeding

Additional related blog links:

HCV now more deadly than HIV

The cost of progress in treating Hepatitis C

Increased ferritin predicts poor response in Hepatitis C

Curing Hepatitis C without interferon

Looking for trouble

Additional references:

  • Hepatology 2011; 54: 1433. AASLD guidelines.  See teleprevir & boceprevir as well.-
  • -Hepatology 2011; 53: 1468. PEG/RBV have minimal effect on QOL/cognitive/emotional outcomes, n=114.
  • -Gastroenterology 2011; 140: 389, 450-58. HEP-C STUDY. Comb RBV (15mg/kg div BID) & PEG-2a (180mcg/1.73m2 body surface q week) is better than PEG monotherapy. 53% SVR in combo group. Neutropenia in 40% –needed to reduce dose see below). “The Combination of Ribavirin and Peginterferon Is Superior to Peginterferon and Placebo for Children and Adolescents With Chronic Hepatitis C.”
  • -Hepatology 2009; 49: 1335. Comprehensive review and guidelines
  • -J Hepatology 2010; 52: 501-07. n=107. Pediatric study. Wirth et al. Efficacy of PEG alfa-2b (1.5/g/d) & RBV (15/kg/day): Genotypes 2/3 96% SVR, genotype 1 55%.
  • -JPGN 2006; 43: 499.  Study of PEG-IFN-α-2a in children.  dose BSA m2/1.73 x 180microgm weekly x 48 weeks.  6/14 (43%) had sustained response.  all genotype 1.  Article states that IFN (3/week) + RBV has now been approved by FDA for those over 3 years

PEG-Interferon Dosing:

Dosing adjustment from hep C study in children –needed in ~40%

PEG -2a
original: 180mcg/1.73m2
1. level 1: 135 mcg, level 2: 90mcg, level 3: 45 mcg

If ANC 750-999 week 1-2: level 1 adjustment, weeks >3: no adjustment
If ANC 500-749: week 1-2: hold dose ’til >750, then level 1; weeks >3, level 1 adjustment
If ANC 250-499: week 1-2, hold until >750, then level 2 adjustment, weeks >3, then hold ’til 750, then level 1 adjustment
If ANC <250, stop drug

If PLTs 35-49K, hold til >50, then level 1
If PLTs 25-34, hold til >50, then level 2
If PLTs <25, stop drug

If Hgb <10, reduce RIBA dose by 1/2 & increase dose when hgb>10
If hgb <8.5, stop RIBA

If indirect bili >5, stop drug.  If <2.5, restart dose at one-half and if remains less than 2.5, can resume full dose after 4 weeks.

IF ALT 5-10 ULN, recheck in 1 week.  If stays high, level 1 adjustment.
IF ALT10 ULN for more than 1 week, then if drops to 5-10, level 1 but if remains >10 ULN, then stop drug.

Side effect frequency:
flu symptoms: 91%, h/a, 62%, GI symptoms 56%, injection pain 45%, muscle aches 36%, irritable 31%, fatigue 27%, rash 20%, itching 15%, anorexia 13%, trouble sleeping 11%, depression 4-12%

Curing Hepatitis C without interferon

In the face of increasing morbidity and mortality, better therapies for Hepatitis C have emerged which if applied broadly have an opportunity to change the outcome.  Recently, several articles have highlighted the possibility of treating individuals without interferon.

  • Lok et al. NEJM 2012; 366: 216-224
  • Chayam et al. Hepatology 2012; 55: 742-48
  • Zeuzem et al. Hepatology 2012; 55: 749-58.

In the Lok study, 21 null responders (patients who failed to achieve ≥2log10 decline in HCV RNA after ≥12 weeks of peginterferon and ribavirin) were divided into two groups. In Group A, 36% of patients were able to achieve SVR12 using a combination direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) with non-overlapping resistance profiles — without the use of interferon. Group A patients received BMS-790052 (an oral, first-in-class, NS5A replication complex inhibitor) and BMS-650032 (an oral NS3 protease inhibitor). In Group B which included peginterferon and ribavirin the SVR12 was 100%. There were no serious adverse events, or discontinuations.  The most common side effects were diarrhea, fatigue, headache, and nausea.

In the Chayam study, the combination of BMS-790052 (now called daclatasvir) and BMS-650032 (now called asunaprevir) examined this combination of DAAs in null HCV responders with genotype 1B (in Japan).  Ten patients received both drugs for 24 weeks. All nine who completed treatment had an SVR.  One patient stopped the medication due to elevated bilirubin and lymphopenia which occurred following an apparent infectious gastroenteritis.

In the Zeuzem study, tegobuvir (a nonnucleoside polymerase inhibitor) and GS 9256 (an NS3 serine protease inhibitor) with RBV (n=15), with PEG/RBV (n=15) and without ribavirin (n=16) were administered in three arms for 4 weeks, followed by dual therapy with PEG and RBV.  The primary end point was rapid virologic response (RVR), defined as HCV RNA <25 IU/mL.  Reductions (mean) for HCV RNA were -4.1 log10 IU/mL for dual therapy, -5.1 log10 IU/mL for triple therapy, and -5.7 log10 IU/mL for quadruple therapy.  RVR was noted in 7% of dual Rx, 38% of triple therapy, and 100% of quadruple therapy.

These studies indicate that even for difficult to treat HCV patients that new oral medications are on the horizon that will increase cure rates and may allow effective regimens that do not include interferon.  This is good news because until recently regimens with interferon were more likely to provoke adverse reactions that to guarantee a cure.

Links to relevant blog entries on HCV:

HCV now more deadly than HIV

The cost of progress in treating Hepatitis C

Looking for trouble