German biotech company Artes Biotechnology and Australian virology and communicable disease research institute Burnet Institute have joined forces to develop a novel, effective vaccine to prevent transmission of hepatitis C virus (HCV).
According to the duo, an HCV vaccine is urgently needed to prevent reinfection in people treated through antiviral therapies and reverse the high global mortality rates from infection-related liver cirrhosis or liver cancer, estimated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be more than 500 000 people each year.
More than 130 million people globally are carriers of HCV – a blood-borne virus. The innovative hepatitis C vaccine project will combine Burnets’ proprietary HepSeeVaxDelta3 technology, developed by associate professor Heidi Drummer and colleagues, with Artes’ proprietary Metavax technology for the development of chimeric virus-like particle- (VLP-) based vaccines.
The project aims to develop a VLP-based vaccine that efficiently presents HCV antigens to prevent hepatitis C infection. The VLPs will present the novel, modified envelope protein (E2) on its surface, thereby targeting the vaccine to dendritic cells to prime and prepare the immune system to fight against infection.
Drummer said the institute’s technology overcomes a critical limitation to HCV vaccine development. “The virus that causes HCV has evolved to avoid the immune system so that in natural infection, key immune responses are delayed or distracted by irrelevant targets on the virus.
“The same is true for conventional vaccine platforms tested previously. “The vaccine redirects the immune response to make antibodies on the most important targets that prevent infection against the seven circulating HCV genotypes.”
Artes MD Michael Piontek said his company was excited to join forces with Burnet Institute to develop a vaccine against hepatitis C, which is endemic in many countries where treatment costs are high and HCV poses a significant burden on healthcare.
“Access to diagnosis and treatment is limited, especially in endemic countries in Africa and Asia, so there is a strong demand for a safe and low-cost vaccine.