Research Roundup: Viral hepatitis, treatment for persistent Ebola, E. coli–based vaccines
New research suggests that viral hepatitis is a leading infectious disease killer, resulting in 1.45 million deaths in 2013, more than HIV and AIDS and just short of tuberculosis, which killed 1.2 and 1.5 million in 2014, respectively. Five viruses—hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E—cause the disease, and a new World Health Organization (WHO) strategy seeks to reduce new cases of hepatitis B and C—responsible for the most deaths worldwide—by 30 percent over the next four years. Vaccines are available against hepatitis A and B, and new treatments, including cures, against hepatitis C are on the market and under development, although treatment costs remain prohibitive. The WHO is calling for expanded vaccination efforts and treatment coverage, as well as prevention of mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B.
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is partnering with the Ministry of Health of Liberia and pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences to test drug candidate GS-5734 in adult male survivors of Ebola, with the goal of eliminating the virus from the body. Since 2014, more than 28,000 cases of Ebola have been reported in West Africa, and survivors continue to experience a range of symptoms. The virus persists in the blood and semen, and at least one resurgence of the outbreak was due to transmission from a healthy survivor. The drug has proven safe for use in humans and effective against the virus in animals. During the six-month trial, 120 adult male survivors will receive either the drug candidate or a placebo, and will provide blood and semen samples, which will be examined for presence of the Ebola virus.
Researchers at the University at Buffalo are developing a vaccine delivery system using innocuous strains of the Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria—many of which actually aid in human digestion. The team created a synthetic capsule with an E. coli core to deliver an investigational vaccine against pneumococcal disease. The vaccine effectively caused an immune response and protected against sepsis and pneumonia in mice. Both the vaccine and delivery system are being commercialized by biotech startup Abcombi Biosciences Inc., founded by Dr. Charles Jones, a co-author on the study and a former student of the study’s lead author, Dr. Blaine Pfeifer, a professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Buffalo.