Current status of a hepatitis C vaccine: Encouraging results but significant challenges ahead

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Persistent hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection affects 170 million people worldwide. Acute HCV infection is often asymptomatic, but many infected individuals develop persistent infections that may lead to development of end-stage liver diseases, including liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Thus, an HCV vaccine that could significantly lower the chronicity rate would have a major impact on the disease burden. Unfortunately, HCV is a highly mutable virus, and escape mutations can undermine vaccine-induced virus-specific immunity. Also, HCV exists as multiple genotypes, and so genotype-specific vaccines might be required to achieve broad protection. Finally, vaccine development has been hampered by the lack of a small animal model and cell culture systems, but these are currently being established. Despite these obstacles, several vaccine candidates tested in the chimpanzee HCV model have shown some encouraging results.

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