Vaccine to Protect Against Hepatitis C May Be Available in Next 5 Years

A huge cost savings could be generated with the success of a hepatitis C vaccine.

A vaccine that offers protection against hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection may be available within the next 5 years, according to professor Sir Michael Houghton, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology along with 3 other scientists in 1989 for their work discovering HCV. This development was further explained in a special presentation at this year’s virtual European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.

"While the advent of directly acting antivirals (DAAs) to cure hepatitis C has given us a huge weapon to turn the tide on this pandemic, there is no doubt that a vaccine is required to help the world reach its ambitious target of reducing new hepatitis C infections by 90% and mortality rates by 65% by 2030," Houghton said in a press release.

Houghton discussed how the scientific community has learned what immune responses protect against HCV infection and how technological advances, such as the new RNA technology and adenovirus-based technologies, can reproduce protective immune responses through vaccination, according to the press release.

Houghton and his colleagues are in the process of developing an adjuvanted recombinant vaccine that may induce production of antibodies to multiple cross-neutralizing epitopes, which makes it harder for the virus to escape the humoral immune response.

The presentation discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed back many areas of medical research, including work on HCV vaccines. However, Houghton anticipates phase 1 trials in 2022 using different adjuvants followed by phase 2 human efficacy trials from 2023 to 2026, either in an at-risk population or through human vaccine challenge trials, according to the press release.

"If safety and efficacy are proven, roll-out of vaccine to the high-risk people-who-inject-drugs population could begin in 2026/2027,” Houghton said in the press release. “Following phase 3 trials, the hepatitis C vaccine could then be rolled out to other high-risk groups in or around 2029, such as men who have sex with men, healthcare workers, and babies born to mothers with hepatitis C, in all countries of the world."

A huge cost savings could be generated with the success of an HCV vaccine, and it is estimated that helping people who inject drugs with DAAs over a decade would incur drug costs of approximately $0.8 billion compared to the $16 million estimated for vaccine costs to protect this population, according to Houghton.

REFERENCE

Hepatitis C vaccine could be rolled out within five years, says Nobel Prize winner who discovered virus. EurekAlert! July 11, 2021. Accessed July 12, 2021. https://sciencesources.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-07/esoc-hcv070921.php