Advances in Targeting the Innate and Adaptive Immune Systems to Cure Chronic Hepatitis B Virus Infection
“Functional cure” is being pursued as the ultimate endpoint of antiviral treatment in chronic hepatitis B (CHB), which is characterized by loss of HBsAg whether or not anti-HBs antibodies are present. “Functional cure” can be achieved in <10% of CHB patients with currently available therapeutic agents. The dysfunction of specific immune responses to hepatitis B virus (HBV) is considered the major cause of persistent HBV infection. Thus, modulating the host immune system to strengthen specific cellular immune reactions might help eliminate HBV. Strategies are needed to restore/enhance innate immunity and induce HBV-specific adaptive immune responses in a coordinated way. Immune and resident cells express pattern recognition receptors like TLRs and RIG I/MDA5, which play important roles in the induction of innate immunity through sensing of pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) and bridging to adaptive immunity for pathogen-specific immune control. TLR/RIG I agonists activate innate immune responses and suppress HBV replication in vitro and in vivo, and are being investigated in clinical trials. On the other hand, HBV-specific immune responses could be induced by therapeutic vaccines, including protein (HBsAg/preS and HBcAg), DNA, and viral vector-based vaccines. More than 50 clinical trials have been performed to assess therapeutic vaccines in CHB treatment, some of which display potential effects. Most recently, using genetic editing technology to generate CAR-T or TCR-T, HBV-specific T cells have been produced to efficiently clear HBV. This review summarizes the progress in basic and clinical research investigating immunomodulatory strategies for curing chronic HBV infection, and critically discusses the rather disappointing results of current clinical trials and future strategies.