4: Hepatitis C Virus and the Dwindling of Research Funding
Now that modern medicine has found a cure for infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV), many scientists believe that the precious (and scarce) dollars available for research and development (R&D) efforts should be directed at more urgent needs. However, some experts, such as Hugo R. Rosen, MD, FACP, FAASLD, head of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Denver, strongly disagree and instead feel that, “the mission for HCV eradication is far from accomplished.”
In a recent commentary published in the journal, Hepatology
, Dr. Rosen called for increased research into HCV identification, particularly because many of those who are infected are not aware that they are infected; these individuals run the risk of disease progression and transmitting the virus to others. The CDC has already taken steps to curb these outcomes by targeting the population at highest risk for infection: the baby boomer generation
(those born between 1945 and 1965). To this end, the CDC updated their HCV screening guidelines to include a one-time test for all individuals in the baby boomer population. But, is this enough?
Experts remark on the fact that, “HCV is the world’s most prevalent blood-borne viral infection for which a vaccine does not exist, [and] to eliminate HCV infection on a global scale, vaccine development needs to become a public health priority.” Indeed, major diseases that have been eliminated in the past, such as polio and smallpox, required vaccination. Therefore, treatment alone is not enough to substantiate control of a disease.
It is for these reasons that experts such as Dr. Rosen are discouraging decreased R&D on a vaccine for HCV in favor of more focus on direct-acting antivirals for treatment. A vaccine for the disease would also have a significant impact on populations at high-risk for HCV infection, such as those who inject drugs. Indeed, “illnesses stemming from HCV are the top cause of death among individuals who inject drugs. In this group, the incidence of HCV is 10-fold higher than HIV infection, ranging from 60% to 90%.”
To learn more about the importance of R&D efforts towards an HCV vaccine, visit this page