Patients with chronic hepatitis B virus infection and decompensated cirrhosis who immediately initiated entecavir or lamivudine therapy and maintained a virologic response (MVR) had significantly longer transplant-free survival than did nonresponders, according to the results of a multicenter observational study published in the December issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

CDC/Dr. Erskine Palmer

This digitally colorized transmission electron micrograph reveals the presence of hepatitis B virions. The large round virions are known as Dane particles.

Survival times were “excellent” if patients survived the first 6 months of antiviral therapy and did not develop hepatocellular carcinoma, said Jeong Won Jang, MD, of the Catholic University of Korea College of Medicine in Seoul, South Korea, and his associates. Patients who developed hepatocellular carcinoma had persistent declines in survival over time, they said. Predictors of short-term mortality included a baseline Model for End-Stage Liver Disease score above 20 and multiple complications.

Chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is the most common cause of liver-related disease and death in Asia, and complications such as decompensated cirrhosis affect up to 40% of chronically infected persons. Five-year survival rates are as low as 14% if patients develop decompensated cirrhosis.

To explore whether virologic suppression with oral nucleoside or nucleotide analog therapy improves outcomes in these decompensated patients, the researchers studied 295 such individuals from the Epidemiology and Natural History of Liver Cirrhosis in Korea Study. At baseline, these patients did not have documented chronic hepatitis C virus infection, hepatocellular carcinoma, other cancers, autoimmune hepatitis, or alcohol use disorders. All patients initiated entecavir or lamivudine therapy immediately after their cirrhosis became decompensated. The primary outcome was transplant-free survival.

A total of 60.1% of patients survived 5 years and 45.7% survived 10 years without undergoing transplantation, for a median transplant-free survival time of 7.7 years. The 116 patients (39%) who consistently had undetectable HBV DNA levels (less than 20 IU/mL) throughout treatment had significantly longer transplant-free survival than did patients who did not maintain a virologic response (P less than .001). In addition, a maintained virologic response (MVR) was the strongest predictor of long-term transplant-free survival, the researchers said.

A significantly greater proportion of patients who received entecavir survived 10 years compared with patients who received lamivudine. However, there was no significant difference in long-term survival among patients with MVRs to either drug. “Importantly, it appears that improvement in patient survival is attained by antiviral response, not by the type of nucleos(t)ide analogue per se,” the researchers wrote.

Patients who achieved MVR also showed significant improvements in hepatic function, but “the preventive effects of MVR on the incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma appeared only modest,” the investigators said. “Survival of patients without hepatocellular carcinoma who survived the first 6 months after initiation of antiviral therapy was excellent, with only a 25.3% mortality rate occurring between 6 months and 10 years.”

Based on their findings, Dr. Jang and his associates recommended aiming for an HBV DNA load less than 20 IU/mL in patients with decompensated cirrhosis to significantly improve the chances of long-term survival. Survival curves were similar regardless of whether patients had HBV DNA levels less than 10 IU/mL or between and 10 and 20 IU/mL, they noted.

Funders included Korea Healthcare Technology R&D Project and the Catholic Research Coordinating Center of the Korea Health 21 R&D Project, both of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Republic of Korea. Dr. Jang disclosed ties to Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gilead, and Merck Sharp & Dohme. Three coinvestigators also disclosed ties to Gilead, MSD, and several other pharmaceutical companies.

SOURCE: Jang JW et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018 May 18. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2018.04.063