Hep C hope hovers on the horizon

By Kirsty Barnes

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Hcv Immune system

Hope may be on the horizon in the quest for a preventative
hepatitis C virus (HCV) vaccine after scientists said they have
been able to identify and characterise the antibody responses to
the virus.

A research team from Nottingham University presented new data this week claiming they have pinpointed monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that can successfully prevent HCV infection - of numerous different strains - in vitro​. In laboratory models the scientists were able to use these mAbs to neutralise a receptor molecule on the surface of healthy cells in the body, that certain glycoprotieins (E1 and E2) on the surface of the HCV attach to, in order to infiltrate and infect the cells. Neutralising this receptor molecule effectively renders the HCV powerless to enter and infect the healthy cells, the researchers found. The findings were presented on Tuesday in a paper titled: 'Human antibodies to hepatitis C virus - potential for vaccine design' at the annual Meeting of the Society for General Microbiology, held at the University of Edinburgh. Based on these findings, the researchers are now working on developing vaccine candidates against the HCV and said such a vaccine could potentially be available within ten years. "If the antibodies we have discovered can be reproduced by vaccination, control of the disease might be possible…The clinical potential of this work cannot be overstated",​ said Dr Alexander Tarr from Nottingham University's Virus Research Group. "Identifying regions of the virus that are able to induce broadly reactive neutralising antibodies is a significant milestone in the development of a HCV vaccine…and could also help us design vaccines for other chronic viral diseases such as HIV." ​ HCV is a major cause of chronic liver disease and 170m people worldwide carry the disease. In 2006 worldwide sales of HCV therapies totalled €3.5bn. However, although these drugs can potentially cure HCV, half of patients remain unresponsive to current treatments. No preventative drugs have yet been developed, however, vaccines are now the focus of a lot of current research into improving the treatment and prevention of this potentially deadly disease. "Historically, successful vaccines against viruses have required the production of antibodies, and this is likely to be the case for hepatitis C virus",​ said Dr Tarr. The scientists from Nottingham are not alone in their quest to develop HCV vaccines. Novartis in particular is active in this cutting-edge area of drug development. A biologic the vaccines giant is co-developing with Human Genome Sciences (HGS) to treat chronic HCV cleared Phase II trials in April. The drug, Albuferon (albinterferon alfa-2b), is a novel long-acting form of interferon alpha - an approved treatment of HCV - and is created by genetically fusing it to human albumin, which has the effect of decreasing the clearance and prolonging the half-life of the therapeutic protein. Meanwhile, Novartis is also in co-development with Intercell for a peptide-based vaccine against chronic HCV, which has recently shown promise in interim Phase II trial data. The vaccine (IC41) comprises of eight T-cell antigens, combined with its first-generation poly-arginine adjuvant (IC30). It is designed to stimulate T-cell responses against HCV protein structures and reduce viral load.

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