An initial study has shown that a vaccine against Hep C currently in clinical trials is effective and also safe in humans.
Hepatitis C is an infectious disease affecting primarily the liver, caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). There are some 200 million people in the world infected with the disease, and around 75-85% of people with HCV will develop chronic hepatitis C infection. Of these, around 60-70% will develop chronic liver disease, and 5-20% will develop liver cirrhosis over a period of 20-30 years. Hep C is one of the most dangerous diseases in the world at the moment, and there is no vaccine for it – yet.
In a new study, Dr. Ellie Barnes, a professor of hepatology and experimental medicine at the University of Oxford in England reports that the vaccine can boost the human immune system in a way that it fends of Hep C infections. The vaccine is also reported to be safe in humans. Such a vaccine could do wonders, especially when you consider the current costs for treating the disease. A modern, powerful drug by the name of Sovaldi is expected to improve treatment of hepatitis C, but it costs $1,000 per day, or $84,000 for the typical 12-week course. Also, treatments such as this one rarely work in chronic infections and even if they work, they don’t prevent reinfection. This is where this vaccine could step in.
“[The vaccine] targets multiple parts of the hepatitis C virus,” she said. “We hope it will have the capacity to prevent people from being infected, and that’s something we really need.”
It’s interesting to note that vaccines exist both for Hep A and Hep B, but not for Hep C. This virus is much better adapt to trick the antibodies.
“They can put on a disguise and prevent antibodies from seeing them. What we’re trying to do is develop a T-cell vaccine, which works by inducing T cells, a totally different part of the immune system,” she explained.
In this new study, they tested the vaccine on 15 healthy people. First of all, they were given a vaccine that “primes” a response for the virus, and then, 8 weeks later, they were administered a second vaccine which boosts the immune system and prevents infection. They found that the vaccines triggered a strong T-cell response, which continued 6 months after the vaccines were given. The responses were similar to people who get rid of the HCV naturally.
“The T cell response is really high, and what’s promising is that this is a broad response. A range of different T cells are produced targeting different parts of the hepatitis C virus.
This is the first highly immunogenic T cell vaccine developed against hepatitis C. We found it to be safe and well tolerated in this group of 15 healthy volunteers.”
Although about 1% of all Americans are chronically infected with Hep C, the vaccine is mostly aimed at high-risk people in poorer environments. In Western countries infections are rarely widespread, and cases are often isolated. Compare that to Egypt, in which 20% of the country’s inhabitants are infected. Researchers claim that if one-time screening was offered to all Americans this would allow a much earlier treatment and the disease would become much rarer soon.
“Although recent screening recommendations are helpful in decreasing the chronic HCV infection rates, more aggressive screening recommendations and ongoing therapeutic advances are essential to reducing the burden, preventing liver-related deaths and eventually eradicating HCV,” says senior author Jagpreet Chhatwal, PhD, assistant professor of health services research at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.