Countering hepatitis B virus infection using RNAi: how far are we from the clinic?
ABSTRACT Globally, persistent HBV infection is a significant cause of public health problems. Currently available HBV therapies have variable efficacy and there is a need to develop improved treatment to prevent cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Although RNA interference (RNAi)-based approaches have shown promise, accomplishing safe and sustained silencing by RNAi activators, as well as their efficient delivery to hepatocytes have hampered clinical translation of this very promising technology. Expressed silencers may be produced in a sustained manner from stable DNA templates, which makes them suited to treatment of chronic HBV infection. DNA expression cassettes can be incorporated into both viral and non-viral vectors, but in vivo delivery of these cassettes with non-viral vectors is currently inefficient. Synthetic short interfering RNAs (siRNAs), which may be chemically modified to improve stability, specificity and efficacy, are more conveniently delivered to their cytoplasmic sites of action with synthetic non-viral vectors. However, the short duration of action of this class of RNAi activator is a drawback for treatment of chronic HBV infection. Despite the impressive progress that has been made in developing highly effective HBV gene silencers, challenges continue to face implementation of RNAi-based HBV therapy. This review will discuss the current status of the topic and consider the developments that are required to advance RNAi-based HBV therapy to clinical application.