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New Project Dedicated to Developing New Strategies to Fight Hepatitis C

JAN 17, 2017 | KRISTI ROSA
Over 160 million individuals around the world are infected with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV), a virus that, left untreated can result in a number of liver complications: disease, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer. Due to these staggering numbers, researchers from around the world are putting their efforts into finding safe and effective ways to treat this global pathogen that accounts for over 350,000 deaths worldwide.

One such effort is taking shape in the form of a project that will attempt to address the problem through the use of a model system, one that has been designed to both create and assess new HCV-related vaccination strategies. According to a recent press release, scientists from the Medical Research Council (UK) of the Nuffield department of Medicine at the University of Oxford and the School of Biomedical and Healthcare Sciences at the University of Plymouth funded the innovative project.

The death toll caused by HCV is comparable to those of other dangerous infectious diseases, such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria; however, the number of HCV-related deaths is larger than all of the aforementioned diseases combined, according to the press release. Furthermore, the majority of patients who are in need of liver transplants in the United Kingdom most likely need it because they have chronic HCV.

According to the World Health Organization, a number of healthy individuals are able to naturally fight off the infection without it developing into a more serious issue. However, a whopping 55 to 85% of individuals are not as fortunate and will end up with chronic HCV. A large number of those individuals end up developing severe, life-threatening liver complications.

In the past, the go-to treatment for HCV involved therapies that would include weekly injections of interferon and ribavirin over the course of 48 weeks. These therapies were successful in curing about half of the patients; however, it was found that some patients receiving the treatment experienced adverse reactions that were sometimes life-threatening. Now, with the help of newly developed direct-acting antivirals (DAA), more individuals are cured in a shorter treatment period than the older therapies had offered. However, “the burden of HCV disease falls on the poor” even in high- and middle-income countries, such as the United Kingdom, as these drugs are still very expensive.

To address the many problems associated with HCV, particularly the high costs associated with treatment, the scientists plan to use their model system with the end goal of “developing durable and effective vaccines and immune-therapeutics for HCV suitable for all populations,” according to the press release.

Head of the project, Peter Simmonds, professor of Virology in the Nuffield Department of Medicine at Oxford, said, “I think this exciting collaborative project reflects where science really need to go if we are going to continue to make successful in-roads into the treatment and prevention of infectious disease not just for the few, but for everyone. It takes advantage of diverse scientific expertise to address a substantial societal world problem.”
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