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

enerman added that even if the researchers do develop a safe, effective vaccine, it's not certain whether it would protect against different strains of hepatitis C.

"This vaccine is based around one particular genotype -- or strain. The virus itself is very variable. So there's a chance that even if it works well against one strain, it could be less effective against other strains. Viral variation is really a big challenge," he said.

The study is published in the Jan. 4 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

Commenting on the trial, Dr. Andrew Muir, director of gastroenterology and hepatology research at the Duke Clinical Research Institute, said: "It's a novel approach toward a vaccine we've never had much enthusiasm for. We'd been told it's unlikely there would be a hepatitis C vaccine."

Muir said that, while many questions remain, if a hepatitis C vaccine were developed, it would be a boon. "Treatment is incredibly expensive," he said, with the current cost ranging from about $50,000 to $100,000.

Dr. Bruce Bacon, professor of internal medicine in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at St. Louis University School of Medicine, said the payoff from such a vaccine is likely years away. "It's early yet and a lot has to be done to prove efficacy. If you can develop a vaccine that's effective, you can significantly reduce the burden of disease, but maybe the burden of disease 20 years from now."

Prevention and screening efforts, and developing effective medications may be more practical areas of focus for now, Bacon said.

People are risk of hepatitis C infection include those on long-term kidney dialysis; have regular contact with blood at work (such as health-care workers); and those who use injectable street drugs, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

More information

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