Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major global pathogen with more than 160 million people worldwide are chronically infected by the disease. Left untreated HCV will progress to severe liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer.
HCV-related deaths worldwide annually exceed 350,000, comparable to AIDS, TB and malaria. In high-income countries HCV accounts for substantially more deaths than all three of these diseases combined, and is the most common reason for liver transplantation in the UK where there are believed to be 350,000 chronic HCV carriers.
The burden of HCV disease falls on the poor. Current drug treatments are prohibitively expensive even within the UK, and have limiting side effects and achieve sustained clearance of the virus in only 50 to 60% of patients.
In a project funded by the Medical Research Council (UK) scientists from the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford and the School of Biomedical and Healthcare Sciences at the University of Plymouth take a new look at this problem by using a recently developed model system.
They have used it to develop and evaluate new HCV vaccination strategies with a view to developing durable and effective vaccines and immune-therapeutics for HCV suitable for all populations.
The project is led by Professor Peter Simmonds, Professor of Virology in the Nuffield Department of Medicine at Oxford, and is a leader in genetic programming and re-programming of RNA viruses including HCV. Professor Simmonds said: "I think this exciting collaborative project reflects where science really needs 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."
Professors Paul Klenerman and Ellie Barnes at Nuffield Department of Medicine at Oxford and Dr Michael Jarvis, Associate Professor in the School of Biomedical Healthcare Sciences at the University of Plymouth are other collaborators involved in the project.