Anna S. Lok, MD, FAASLD, has spent the last 30 years of her career working on hepatitis B, so it is quite natural that she selected the disease to focus on during her Leon Schiff State-of-the-Art Lecture “Elimination of Hepatitis B: Is it Possible?”
Dr. Lok, the Alice Lohrman Andrews Research Professor in Hepatology in the Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Health System, will provide a vision for the global elimination of hepatitis B and strategies to reach that goal by examining the burden of hepatitis B infection and the disparity in prevalence across different parts of the world.
“Each one of us can do our part, but we also need to collaborate,” she said. “It’s only through collaborations between the scientists, doctors, public health professionals, and the regulatory agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, that we can move the field forward faster and more efficiently.”
There is already an effective vaccine available for hepatitis B, but for those already infected, suppression of the virus, not a cure, is the only current option.
“In the last two to three years, there’s been a lot of renewed interest in developing new drugs to see if, in addition to suppressing the virus, we can actually achieve a cure or at least a more sustained suppression of the virus,” said Dr. Lok, whose ongoing research interests include not only work in determining the role of viral factors in the disease progression, but also methods to improve adherence and response to hepatitis B treatment and testing the safety and efficacy of new antiviral therapies.
In September, she noted, AASLD collaborated with EASL on a workshop to consider the hepatitis B treatment endpoints.
“There are a lot of pharmaceutical companies, a lot of scientists trying to work on developing a cure for hepatitis B,” said Dr. Lok, who plans to discuss whether a cure is possible and what a cure would mean. “What are the pathways, and what’s a cure? I think that we are not there yet, but we are really moving in right direction. I think a breakthrough is going to happen in the next few years.”
In the Schiff Lecture, she will highlight programs designed to prevent hepatitis B infection, available treatment options for chronic hepatitis B and their limitations, and novel therapies with the goal of helping attendees identify high risk groups for hepatitis B screening and when to initiate antiviral therapy in patients with chronic hepatitis B infection.
“I certainly hope that people understand that we can really get rid of hepatitis B, but each one of us has a duty to do our part,” she said, noting that those who work in public health must raise public awareness, develop resources, reach out to their communities that have been neglected and make sure linkage to care, screening programs, and vaccination programs are available and accessible.
For physicians, their role will be to give patients hope, recognize who is infected, give them appropriate treatment, and make sure they enforce adherence. And finally, she calls on researchers to better understand the virus and its different pathways.
“We have to figure out how to attack each step of the virus lifecycle, so that we can develop new drugs that will be more effective than the ones we currently have,” she said.
Leon Schiff State-of-the-Art Lecture
Noon – 12:30 pm Tuesday
CC: Auditorium and Balcony