Recently, medical researchers completed a phase 1 clinical trial which tested the safety and efficacy of a new vaccine for hepatitis C. Early reports state that the results have so far been quite promising! The new vaccine is designed to help protect people from being infected by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). This virus primarily attacks the patient’s liver, causing inflammation which can severely damage the organ in the long-run.
In many cases, people are diagnosed with hepatitis C after their doctor has discovered severe scarring on their liver (cirrhosis). Eventually, some of these patients may develop liver cancer and require a liver transplant in order to survive. Currently, there are no vaccines available which can protect people from getting HCV. In addition, the available hepatitis C treatments can vary in effectiveness depending upon the specific strain of HCV.
One of the major issues surrounding hepatitis C is relative difficulty involved in diagnosing this disease at an early stage. With an estimated 170 million people infected worldwide, there could be untold numbers that have hepatitis C and are not even aware they are carrying it. This poses a huge problem for medical professionals as they struggle to develop better methods of preventing any major outbreaks of hepatitis C.
Interestingly, a small percentage (about 20%) of the people who get infected with hepatitis C have a natural immunity to the virus, so eventually (usually within 6 months of infection) their bodies are able to rid themselves of the disease. However, this is not the case for the majority, and the successful development of a hepatitis C vaccine would be a monumental landmark for medicine.
According to the results of the phase 1 study, the experimental hepatitis C vaccine is able to induce a sustained immunity response to HCV. Medical researchers still need to conduct further hepatitis C clinical studies, but the initial results are certainly positive. With further clinical trials, researchers will be able to understand its full range of usage as a therapeutic and preventative agent.
(See also: Understanding the Phases of Clinical Trials)
During the next phase, the vaccine will be tested in a new setting where exposure to HCV is common (i.e. amongst intravenous drug users). This will be a true test of how effective this vaccine can be as an immunization. This phase 1 hepatitis C clinical trial served as a small, early-stage human study, which allowed researchers to initially pit the experimental vaccine against this infectious disease.
This very important first step in the clinical trial process provides researchers with a way to effectively determine how safe a new therapy is or isn’t. The new hepatitis C vaccine is still at a very early stage in the clinical trial process, so as of now, not much can be truly gleaned from this project. These phase 1 clinical trials are also designed to determine the effective dosage of a new medication.
In addition, medical researchers will determine the experimental treatments safety and tolerability in human participants. By completing this initial clinical trial phase, the hepatitis C vaccine has proven that it can be tolerated by human participants and it is safe for usage.
Interestingly, the preliminary results indicate that the vaccine produces an immune response similar to the people who have a natural immunity to HCV. Of course, there is still a lot more work and research analysis required for this new hepatitis C vaccine. In addition, there were other practical limitations to this hepatitis C clinical study, which the primary researchers have been considering.
These are things that will need to be addressed before the vaccine can be made available for potential hepatitis C patients. In short, we are still several years away from having a hepatitis C vaccine which is available to the public. Despite the additional work required, this has indeed been a very important landmark for hepatitis C research in general.
These researchers have taken that very important first step in developing a viable new vaccine which could one day help to save thousands of lives. The road ahead will in no way be easy, as there will need to be further clinical trials conducted with larger participant populations. However, in just 8 years, we could have the very first hepatitis C vaccine!