New investigational vaccine to prevent hepatitis C tested for first time in humans

November 17, 2003

ST. LOUIS - With an estimated 170 million people around the world already infected with hepatitis C, Saint Louis University is testing, for the first time in humans, an investigational vaccine that researchers hope will prevent infection with the virus. The successful development of such a vaccine would represent a major step in combating this growing health problem.

Saint Louis University is the only site in the country conducting this pilot study.

"There is currently no licensed vaccine to protect against the hepatitis C virus," said Sharon Frey, M.D., principal investigator for the study and associate professor of internal medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. "Our research is important because infection with hepatitis C virus is a major health problem throughout the world. It is believed that 2.7 million Americans have chronic infection with this virus, and up to 170 million people may have chronic infection with hepatitis C virus throughout the world."

The purpose of this research is to study the safety and effectiveness of three different strengths of the Chiron Corporation's investigational hepatitis vaccine.

"This is the first time this hepatitis vaccine will be tested in humans," Frey said. "A vaccine to prevent the infection would be an important breakthrough in controlling the spread of the hepatitis C virus."

The study is being conducted by Saint Louis University's Center for Vaccine Development (led by the division of infectious diseases and immunology) in collaboration with Saint Louis University Liver Center (led by the school's division of gastroenterology and hepatology). This research is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and Chiron.

Hepatitis C virus is a blood-borne infection that causes approximately 10,000 deaths annually and is responsible for almost half of the 4,000 liver transplants each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates medical and work-loss costs for hepatitis C at more than $600 million annually, excluding the costs of transplantation. In the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control believe that approximately 40,000 new cases of hepatitis C infections occur every year.
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Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first M.D. west of the Mississippi River. Saint Louis University School of Medicine is a pioneer in geriatric medicine, organ transplantation, chronic disease prevention, cardiovascular disease, neurosciences and vaccine research, among others. The School of Medicine trains physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research and provides health services on a local, national and international level.

Saint Louis University

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