“If You Don’t Change the Subject, Your Career Will End": Overcoming Obstacles to Cure Hepatitis B


“One size never fits all,” says hepatologist Anna Suk-Fong Lok, MD, emphasizing the need to tailor hepatitis B treatment to fit the patient.

The 30th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI 2023) is officially underway, and day 2 began with an opening plenary session.

Anna Suk-Fong Lok, MD, a hepatologist and professor at the University of Michigan Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine, gave a talk entitled “The Path to Hepatitis B Cure.”

Lok noted that people are eager to see a cure for hepatitis B, especially after hepatitis C was cured. However, “Hepatitis B is a very different virus.”

Lok clarified that when we talk about “curing” hepatitis B, the real objective is to clear the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) with no relapse. When relapse does occur, it can trigger hepatitis flare, a major concern. “We’ve made progress,” Lok affirmed, “but everyone has been a little frustrated that the progress has not been as quick as we would like.”

Lin her plenary, Lok highlighted the many attempts to cure hepatitis B in the past 5-10 years. “Each of these attempts have shown some promise,” she said, “But we all know that, on their own, they’re not going to be sufficient.”

However, this is complicated by the fact that “more is not always better.” Lok explained that sometimes triple therapy does not work as well as dual therapy, exemplifying that “we still have a lot to learn.”

Lok was asked to give a plenary on hepatitis B at the CROI 2023 conference, but when she first came to America 31 years ago, she was dissuaded from studying the subject at all.

“When I moved to this country, I was told, ‘Forget about hepatitis B, we have a vaccine,’” Lok recounted. “’If you don’t change the subject, your career will end.’ Now, that was 31 years ago…we still have a lot to work on.”

Lok’s plenary session, “The Path to Hepatitis B Cure,” was given Monday, February 20, at the 30th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI 2023).

Follow along with our CROI 2023 coverage here.

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