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Novel Hepatitis C Vaccine Shows Some Early Promise
Date:1/4/2012

By Mary Brophy Marcus
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 4 (HealthDay News) -- A vaccine to protect against the hepatitis C virus, which can cause severe liver damage and even liver cancer, might be possible -- but it's likely years away, researchers are reporting.

There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C, which afflicts an estimated 170 million people worldwide.

Like HIV, the hepatitis C virus mutates easily and has always been considered a difficult pathogen to immunize against because it's constantly changing. However, preliminary research by British and Italian scientists suggests that the virus might one day be beatable due to a novel approach.

The researchers treated 41 healthy volunteers with a vaccine designed to generate a response by T cells (infection-fighting cells) against the virus' internal proteins, instead of aiming to create an antibody attack on the ever-changing outer coat of the virus. Study lead author Dr. Paul Klenerman, a senior research fellow at Oxford University's Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, said the new vaccine is based on research by a biotech company in Italy. The researchers are calling it the first clinical trial of a hepatitis C vaccine in humans.

The inside of the virus is much more stable than its outer coat, Klenerman explained, and it's also headquarters for "crucial pieces of machinery." He said the researchers used a chimpanzee-based adenovirus (similar to the common cold virus) as a method of vaccine transmission, and were able to prime a large cellular immune response against hepatitis C that lasted for a year -- the length of the study.

But many questions remain to be answered, Klenerman said. "At the moment the trial is just Phase 1 and it looked at safety and an appropriate dose. It needs to go through at least a Phase 2 trial to show whether it's protective. That trial would probably take two or three years," he said.

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