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Prayers for a Hep C Vaccine Could Be Answered as Early as This Summer

January 23, 2018

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By working to develop a safe and effective prophylactic vaccine, Oxford scientists have brought us one step closer to achieving the optimal goal for eradicating new occurrences of Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C instigated a global health crisis by causing chronic liver disease in millions of people worldwide. Thankfully, the pharmaceutical industry has dramatically improved the outlook of Hepatitis C by creating several highly effective treatments. While developing a cure for Hepatitis C infection will help many people stop this disease from causing their liver further harm, it is not a solution for preventing its transmission.

Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B both have preventative vaccines widely available, but a protective vaccine from Hepatitis C is still out of reach.

There are two types of vaccines:

  1. Therapeutic Vaccine – This is a therapy that fights an existing infection. Therapeutic vaccines trick the immune system into fighting an existing infection.
  2. Protective Vaccine – These are “shots” to prevent a disease. Protective vaccines prevent infection by stimulating the body’s immune system to produce proteins called antibodies that fight off future infection.

The lack of a Hepatitis C protective vaccine is not for lack of trying. Upon identification of the Hepatitis C virus more than 25 years ago, efforts began to prevent its transmission. However, finding a safe and effective way for the body to produce antibodies to Hepatitis C have been mostly unsuccessful.

Inspiring a shred of hope, a trial driven by the University of Oxford is currently determining the safety and preliminary efficacy of an experimental, Hepatitis C, preventative vaccine. This trial has already enrolled a large sample of participants, and it is slated for completion in the summer of 2018.

Although vaccination is the optimal method of preventing infection, it has proved very difficult to develop an effective vaccine against Hepatitis C due to this virus’s many variations. The Hepatitis C virus occurs in at least six genetically distinct forms (genotypes) with about 50 currently identified subtypes. A Hepatitis C vaccine would have to protect against all the variants of the virus.

Not everyone exposed to Hepatitis C goes on to develop a chronic infection. An estimated 25% of those infected for the first time are able to naturally clear the virus. This statistic suggests that effective immune responses can be mounted against Hepatitis C. Examining the lucky 25% of people able to naturally rid themselves of the Hepatitis C virus revealed that T cells (specialized immune system cells), play a big role in controlling the viral course. Oxford University researchers are aiming their protective vaccine development towards eliciting a similar T cell immune response against the virus.

The researchers:

  • developed two different vaccines that were produced by adding genes for various Hepatitis C components to two different viruses.
  • used viruses that are replication defective – so they can’t cause disease.
  • created these vaccines based on the idea that genetic material is injected into host cells, which then produce viral proteins that stimulate the immune system.
  • designed the first vaccine to prime the immune system to be ready for attack, and the second as a booster to enhance the immune response.

The Oxford University researchers tested their vaccines on healthy human volunteers. The T cell responses created were strong, broad, sustained for six months, and were comparable to those seen in individuals that are able to clear infection naturally. The next step is the clinical trial currently underway.

As described in a 2014 edition of the journal Science Translational Medicine, the Oxford-developed vaccine was well tolerated and induced strong and broad immune responses against the Hepatitis C virus. A clinical trial sponsored by University of Oxford with collaborators ReiThera Srl and GlaxoSmithKline is currently assessing the safety and cellular immune response generated by Hepatitis C vaccine candidates AdCh3NSmut and MVA-NSmut. Although this trial is just in Phase I, it represents progress toward developing a protective Hepatitis C vaccine.

With the first efficacy study of a prophylactic Hepatitis C vaccine underway, University of Oxford researchers are paving the future for eradicating this virus. The clinical trial results are expected in July of 2018; and if the results are positive, the wait for a Hepatitis C protective vaccine is getting shorter.

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https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02362217, A Study to Assess the Safety of HIV and Hep C Vaccine Candidates When Given Separately or in Combination, Retrieved January 17, 2018, ClinicalTrials.gov, 2018.

http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/6/261/261ra153, A human vaccine strategy based on chimpanzee adenoviral and MVA vectors that primes, boosts, and sustains functional HCV-specific T cell memory, Leo Swadling, et al, Retrieved January 17, 2018, Science Translational Medicine, November 2014.

http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/new-hepatitis-c-vaccine-shows-promise-human-trials/, New Hepatitis C Vaccine Shows Promise in Human Trials, Retrieved January 17, 2018, IFLS, Inc., 2018.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hepatitis-c/expert-answers/hepatitis-c-vaccine/faq-20110002, Why Isn’t There a Hepatitis C Vaccine?, James M. Steckelberg, MD, Retrieved January 17, 2018, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2018.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27490575, Highly-Immunogenic Virally-Vectored T-cell Vaccines Cannot Overcome Subversion of the T-cell Response by HCV during Chronic Infection, Swadling L, et al, Retrieved January 17, 2018, Vaccines (Basel), August 2016.

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