Scientists at Oxford University have successfully carried out an early stage trial of a hepatitis C vaccine with promising results.
Hepatitis C can be symptomless for years, but if left untreated it can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and death. The virus spreads through blood to blood contact, and is most commonly passed on by sharing needles.
Hepatitis C virus is most commonly spread through needle sharing
Experts estimate that up to 500,000 people in the UK may be infected with hepatitis C, but the World Health Organisation says the global figure could be around 170 million.
In the Phase I trial, 41 healthy patients were given the experimental vaccine. Writing in Science Translational Medicine, researchers said the vaccine produced a ‘very strong’ immune response that lasted for at least a year and had no major side effects.
The vaccine, which is based on a modified cold virus, generated immune responses similar to those seen in people who have a rare but natural defense against the disease.
Charles Gore, chief executive of the Hepatitis C Trust, said: "This is very promising research.”
Designing a vaccine has previously been difficult because the virus changes its appearance, making it hard for scientists to find something to target.
The new vaccine is designed to generate a response in the immune system's T-cells to the internal parts of the virus, which are more constant, rather than trying to prime an antibody attack on the virus's ever-changing outer coat.
Prof Klenerman said: "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."
© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2012