Thursday, February 23, 2006

Hepatitis B vaccine and cure may be just around the corner

Hepatitis B vaccine and cure may be just around the corner
Danielle Cronin
Thursday, 23 February 2006
The Canberra Times

Hepatitis B vaccine and cure may be just around the cornerDanielle CroninThursday, 23 February 2006 A vaccine developed in Canberra could hopefully cure people with the potentially deadly infection hepatitis B, specialist Professor Nikolai Petrovsky said yesterday.
In a reported world first, Canberra company Vaxine is testing the vaccine developed by Professor Petrovsky and Dr Peter Cooper, of the Australian National University's John Curtin School of Medical Research.
"We've got two ambitions," Professor Petrovsky said.
"The first is to use it in the traditional sense of the vaccine, which is to take people who haven't been exposed to the virus and protect them against the virus, so we're very confident that we will achieve that.
"The ambitious part of the project is we believe that there's a good chance we may be actually able to treat people who are already infected with the virus and use the vaccine to basically help the immune system to eradicate the virus."
Professor Petrovsky worked on the compound when he was a specialist at Canberra Hospital.
Hepatitis B is one of the world's most common liver infections, affecting about 30 per cent of the population, or 2billion people, at some time.
About 350 million people are chronic carriers and one million people die each year from liver failure caused by hepatitis B.
The virus can be spread through contact with the blood of an infected person, from mother to child at birth, during unsafe sex, sharing needles, and unsterilised tatooing or piercing equipment.
Professor Petrovsky said most people fought off the infection, but in about one in three cases the virus lodged in the liver, causing serious damage that could lead to failure. There were drugs to slow down the process, but no cure.
The vaccine combined a protein from the virus and a special agent taken from the natural sugar found in dahlia flowers.
"It is designed to encourage the immune system to attack and destroy the hepatitis infection more effectively. It may ultimately lead to the world's first cure for chronic hepatitis B infection," he said. "Although still early days, this new vaccine should be of major benefit to people who respond poorly to current hepatitis B vaccines, including people with immuno-deficiency, diabetes, elderly people and people with kidney disease.
"We may actually be able to treat people who have the virus and cure them of the virus. If we do that, that's going to be pretty revolutionary."
It would take a few months to complete the first phase involving testing the safety and efficacy of the vaccine on about 24 people who were not infected.
Professor Petrovsky said the next stage would be "very exciting" when people with hepatitis B were given the vaccine.
Vaxine chief executive Ted Stapinski said the vaccine could be a financial boon. If the test results were positive, the company would forge a partnership with a pharmaceutical company to market the vaccine and list on the stock exchange. Professor Petrovsky helped set up Vaxine, a Canberra company focused on developing vaccines for infectious diseases.
The United States' National Institute of Health recently gave a grant - worth more than $3 million - to Vaxine and Flinders University to develop vaccines to protect against bioterrorist attacks.