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In a fight to the finish, Saint Louis University research aims knockout punch at hepatitis B
Date:2/4/2013

ST. LOUIS In research published in the Jan. 24 edition of PLOS Pathogens, Saint Louis University investigators together with collaborators from the University of Missouri and the University of Pittsburgh report a breakthrough in the pursuit of new hepatitis B drugs that could help cure the virus. Researchers were able to measure and then block a previously unstudied enzyme to stop the virus from replicating, taking advantage of known similarities with another major pathogen, HIV.

John Tavis, Ph.D., study author and professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at SLU, says the finding may lead to drugs which, in combination with existing medications, could suppress the virus far enough to cure patients.

"Hepatitis B is the major cause of liver failure and liver cancer worldwide," Tavis said. "This would have an extremely positive effect on liver disease and liver cancer rates.

"If we can cure hepatitis B, we can eliminate the majority of liver cancer cases. This research is a step toward achieving that goal."

World health experts estimate that more than 350 million people are chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus. Several drugs are able to treat symptoms successfully, though they are not able to cure many patients. Of those infected with hepatitis B virus, up to 1.2 million die from liver failure and liver cancer each year.

A person who is infected with hepatitis B virus can have up to a billion viral copies per drop of blood. To cure a patient, a drug needs to reduce those levels to zero.

Not Quite a Cure

While existing medications are very powerful, they cannot quite deliver the knockout punch to hepatitis B. The drugs approved to treat the virus can reduce its numbers, make symptoms disappear for years and push it to the brink of extinction. But for most people, the medications can't kill the virus completely. And, as long as any virus remains, it can multiply and gr
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Contact: Carrie Bebermeyer
bebermcl@slu.edu
314-977-8015
Saint Louis University
Source:Eurekalert

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