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Dream of eliminating hepatitis B may be moving closer to reality

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As World Hepatitis Day approaches on July 28, there is hope on the horizon for someday eliminating one of the most common forms of this still-incurable disease.

While hepatitis B virus (HBV) can be prevented with a vaccine, and can also be controlled with long-term antiviral therapy, it remains a major health threat. About 260 million people, more than 3% of the world’s population, are chronically infected by HBV – and about 880,000 people worldwide die every year of liver failure or liver cancer caused by the virus.

Although researchers are exploring several different avenues in search of a cure, a “combination” approach may be the best hope for curing HBV.

Working together, scientists at two major German research centers have developed one such approach. They found that a large amount of hepatitis B viral proteins expressed in the liver prevents the body’s immune system from defeating the virus. 

After first “knocking down” the expression of those proteins, they were then able to successfully treat mice with a novel therapeutic vaccine they have developed. This strategy has achieved complete elimination of HBV infection in two different mouse models, they said.

The newly developed vaccine, called TherVacB, will be tested as an immunotherapy in a two-year clinical trial starting in 2021. It has been designed to target the majority of HBV virus types and has the potential to benefit most people infected worldwide, they added.

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