Burnet Institute Program Director, Disease Elimination, Professor Heidi Drummer has articulated a compelling case for the development of a world-first licensed vaccine for hepatitis C in a special presentation to Burnet donors and supporters.
While widespread access to new highly effective medications offers a potential cure for the millions of hepatitis C sufferers globally, the World Health Organization (WHO)’s goal to eliminate the virus by 2030 will not be achieved without the support of coordinated interventions.
These include harm reduction, universal access to testing and an effective vaccine.
“We know that people who are cured of hepatitis C with direct-acting antivirals can become reinfected if they continue to inject drugs, for example … so they need to be treated again,” Professor Drummer said.
Image: Burnet Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC addresses the audience
“You need to find them and get them back on treatment, and that can be very difficult; we don’t want to have to retreat people.
An estimated 71 million people worldwide are chronically infected with hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that’s commonly linked to liver cancer or liver failure, with no symptoms until it’s too late.
According to WHO, the virus claims 400,000 lives annually.
In Australia, the number people with hepatitis C has fallen from 250,000 to 150,000 since the availability of direct-acting antivirals in 2016, but many of those who remain infected don’t know it.
Image: Professor Drummer takes questions from the floor
Professor Drummer is leading Burnet’s research to develop a vaccine for hepatitis C.
Burnet modelling shows a vaccine that’s 75 percent effective, offered in conjunction with treatment, could significantly reduce the incidence of hepatitis C in the community, improve the feasibility of testing and offer savings of billions of dollars globally.
“And we really need to accelerate vaccine development to take our discovery to human clinical trials, and this is what we’re trying to do.
“If we had the four components of harm reduction, testing, treatment and a vaccine, we could really make a massive difference to everyone around the world … and eradicate hepatitis C.”
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