Vaccination against hepatitis C virus infection: Miles to go before we sleep



A high incidence of community-acquired hepatitis C virus infection that can lead to the progressive development of chronic active hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, and primary hepatocellular carcinoma occurs throughout the world. A vaccine to control the spread of this agent that represents a major cause of chronic liver disease is therefore needed. Seven chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) have been immunized with both putative envelope glycoproteins [E1 (gp33) and E2 (gp72)] that were copurified from HeLa cells infected with a recombinant vaccinia virus expression vector. Despite the induction of a weak humoral immune response to these viral glycoproteins in experimentally infected chimpanzees, a strong humoral immune response was obtained in all vaccines. The five highest responders showed complete protection against an i.v. challenge with homologous hepatitis C virus 1. The remaining two vaccinees became infected, but both infection and disease may have been ameliorated in comparison with four similarly challenged control chimpanzees, all of which developed acute hepatitis and chronic infections. These results provide considerable encouragement for the eventual control of hepatitis C virus infection by vaccination.