A hepatitis C vaccine has shown positive results in an early clinical trial, UK researchers have said.
The study, conducted by the University of Oxford on 41 patients, generated immune responses similar to those seen in people who are naturally able to clear any infection with the hepatitis C virus. The changing appearance of the virus has, up until now, made it difficult to design a preventive vaccine, but, writing in Science Transitional Medicine, researchers suggest it might be possible to develop a vaccine that will be broadly effective against hepatitis C and offer lasting protection.
Professor Paul Klenerman of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine at Oxford University said, "We’ve found that it’s possible to prime large cellular immune responses against hepatitis C that last for at least a year. The immune responses we’ve seen are exciting and we are beginning the next stage of trials. While we are hopeful, it could be a long road to any vaccine that protects people against hepatitis C."
The vaccine is designed to generate a ‘T cell’ response to the more constant internal parts of the hepatitis C virus, rather than the variable surface markings. According to Klenerman, "The outside shell of the hepatitis C virus is very variable but the inside of the virus is much more stable. That’s where the engine of the virus is, where we may be able to successfully target many of the crucial pieces of machinery. But we need T cells and not antibodies to be able to react to the inner components of the virus."
Hepatitis C is caused by a virus transmitted through the blood, with infection typically remaining hidden for many years. Many people do not know they are infected because they do not show any symptoms.
Image caption: Positive results have been recorded from an early trial of a potential Hepatitis C vaccine. Image courtesy of Lemonpink.