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Original article

α-Galactosylceramide in chronic hepatitis B infection: results from a randomized placebo-controlled Phase I/II trial

Andrea M Woltman, Martijn J ter Borg, Rekha S Binda, Dave Sprengers, B Mary E von Blomberg, Rik J Scheper, Kunihiko Hayashi, Nobusuke Nishi, André Boonstra, Renate van der Molen, Harry LA Janssen

Corresponding author name: Harry LA Janssen
Corresponding author e-mail: h.janssen@erasmusmc.nl

Citation: Antiviral Therapy 2009; 14:809-818
doi: 10.3851/IMP1295

Date accepted: 08 May 2009
Date published online: 05 October 2009

Abstract

Background: The glycosphingolipid α-galactosylceramide (α-GalCer) is known to stimulate invariant natural killer T-cells (iNKTs) and is able to induce powerful antiviral immune responses. The present dose-escalating randomized placebo-controlled Phase I/II trial aimed to investigate antiviral activity and safety of α-GalCer as a novel class of treatment for chronic hepatitis B patients.

Methods: Patients were randomly assigned to 0.1 μg/kg (n=8), 1 μg/kg (n=6) or 10 μg/kg (n=6) α-GalCer or placebo (n=7) treatment.

Results: Almost all α-GalCer-treated patients showed a rapid and strong decrease in natural killer T-cell (NKT) numbers. Patients with high baseline NKT numbers showed immune activation, including natural killer cell activation, increased serum tumour necrosis factor-α and interleukin-6 levels, and development of fever. Three patients demonstrated a transient decrease in hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA. Only one α-GalCer-treated patient had a sustained decrease in HBV DNA at the end of follow-up. Four patients discontinued therapy because of fever shortly after drug administration. No significant side effects were observed.

Conclusions: α-GalCer (0.1–10 μg/kg) used as monotherapy for chronic hepatitis B infection resulted in a strong decrease of NKTs, but did not clearly affect HBV DNA and alanine aminotransferase levels. α-GalCer was poorly tolerated and is unlikely to be suitable as an alternative monotherapy to the current treatment regimen.

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