According to Public Health England over half of people infected with Hepatitis C in the UK are not aware of it. In America HCV is the most common long- term blood borne illness, with over 3.2 million people who have chronic Hepatitis C. This is why recent news about a possible vaccine against this silent killer of a disease, is such great news.
Scientists have been trying to develop an effective vaccine against this deadly disease for decades, but to date have been thwarted in their attempts, due to the virus’s ability to mutate and because there are different versions ( genotypes) of Hepatitis C. Now, a recent trial of a vaccine candidate by researchers at Oxford University has provided a ray of hope in the fight against this disease.

The study, led by Professor Ellie Barnes and published in Science Translational Medicine, revealed how they developed a two tier approach that triggers and enhances an immune response to HCV, protecting against infection. The vaccine has undergone a Phase one safety trial in 15 healthy volunteers . The volunteers were first given a vaccine that primes an initial response to HCV. A second vaccine was then administered 8 weeks after, which boosts the immune response and protected against infection.

Some people who get infected with HCV, clear the virus spontaneously and the vaccine is based on this concept and was developed to trigger a strong response from T cells, the same response these individuals have. The vaccine produced immune responses comparable to those in people who manage to clear the virus themselves and the protection lasted for at least 6 months. The vaccine appeared safe and well tolerated, with only minor side effects.

They commented that the T- cell response was really high and what was really promising was the fact that it was a broad response. This is the first highly immunogenic T cell vaccine developed against Hepatitis C.

The team is already testing the vaccines efficacy in intravenous drug users, to see how well it works in this at risk population. If the results can be replicated this would be a major advance in the fight against this disease.

With the new era of direct acting antivirals that are highly effective in treating those who already have Hepatitis C, together with better screening for the disease, it is hoped that the disease could become a rare disease as early as 2026.