1Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endocrinology, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany.
2Excellence Cluster Resist, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany.
3German Center for Infection Research, Partner Site Hannover-Braunschweig, Hannover, Germany.
4Clinician Scientist Program PRACTIS, Supported by the German Research Foundation DFG, Hannover, Germany.
5Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 900, Hannover, Germany.
Treatment of hepatitis D virus (HDV) infection has been based on the administration of interferon-alfa for more than three decades. First studies to treat HDV-infected patients with type 1 interferons were already performed in the 1980s. Several smaller trials and case series were reported thereafter. During the mid 2000s the use of pegylated interferons for hepatitis D was established. Since then, additional trials were performed in different countries exploring strategies to personalize treatment including extended treatment durations. The overall findings were that about one-quarter to one-third of patients benefit from interferon treatment with persistent suppression of HDV replication. However, only few patients achieve also functional cure of hepatitis B with HBsAg loss. Importantly, several studies indicate that successful interferon treatment is associated with improved clinical long-term outcomes. Still, only a proportion of patients with hepatitis D can be treated with interferons. Even though alternative treatments are currently developed, it is likely that pegylated interferon-alfa will still have an important role in the management of hepatitis D - either alone or in combination. Therefore, better biomarkers are needed to select patients with a high likelihood to benefit from interferon-based treatments. In this review we are discussing basic principles of mode of action of interferon alpha against HDV, summarize previous data on interferon treatment of hepatitis D and give an outlook on potential combinations with novel drugs currently in development.