New Test for Hepatitis B Antigens

A new test shows how well patients with hepatitis B respond to drugs.

Tracking whether patients with hepatitis B are responding to treatment should soon get easier.

Quest Diagnostics has launched a new test service that will help doctors evaluate a patient’s response to drug therapies, the company announced today.

According to Quest, currently, the HBsAg qualitative test is used to aid in diagnosis of patients with HBV.

It's new product will measure the load of viral antigen in a patient's blood.

“The widespread availability of quantitative HBsAg testing through Quest for use by hepatologists, gastroenterologists and other specialists will advance the care of HBV-infected patients,” said Robert G. Gish, MD, Robert G Gish Consultants LLC, as quoted by Quest in a news release.

“The ability to reliably quantify surface antigen will enhance clinicians’ ability to stage patient’s disease state, provide prognostic information and help guide care with current antivirals and new therapies that are in the development pipeline,” he said.

Chronic hepatitis B infection is currently treated with antiviral therapies or interferon alpha (PEG-IFN). Unlike hepatitis C virus infection, in which direct acting antiviral drugs (DAAs) have high success rates, cure rates are lower for HBV due to the persistent nature of the virus and the low compliance rate with long-term therapies. Because viral load may be suppressed during treatment, it cannot be solely considered a sign of viral clearance; resolved chronic HBV is defined by clearance of HBsAg, according to the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD).

“An estimated 850,000 to 2.2 million persons in the US are infected with chronic hepatitis B. While there are effective therapies that can functionally cure HBV infection, physicians in the U.S. have lacked tools that help predict individualized patient response to those treatments,” said Rick L. Pesano, MD, PhD, vice president, research and development, Quest Diagnostics. “With this new test capability, physicians can better develop tailored treatment plans and monitor HBV-infected patients to help prevent progression and better their chance for long-term immunity.”

The hepatitis B virus can be transmitted by blood, semen, or other body fluid from a person infected with the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic hepatitis B can lead to serious health issues, including cirrhosis or liver cancer.