Hepatitis B is a disease without a cure. Anyone that contracts it could be left with a chronic, life-long condition that requires ongoing treatment to allow the patient to live a normal life. Like HIV sufferers, they are condemned to be wary of sexual contact, cannot donate blood, and, moreover, are treated with a social stigma. But new research coming out of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute at San Antonio indicates that a Hep B cure could be on the way.
A drug developed by Gilead Sciences has proven itself to be able to destroy cells infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) in chimpanzees that have the chronic form of hep B. Chimps are the only other primate besides humans that is able to contract a chronic form of hepatitis.
The drug is called GS-9620 and is an immune system stimulator. It works with the body’s natural defense system to fight off HBV, eliminate infected cells and reduce the number of infected cells in the liver of the chimpanzees. The success at Texas Biomed with the primates was critical in allowing it to move forward into the human trial phase.
A full report of the study co-authored by research scientists from both Texas Biomed and Gilead Sciences can be found in the May issue of Gastroenterology magazine.
The drug is not yet a cure, but it promises to be a stepping stone on the way to completely eradicating the disease. The study claims that similar viruses to HBV in other animals can be cured using GS-9620 treatment. The fact that this eliminative potential exists in the drug at all shows that through some minor adjustment, it is possible that aggressive treatments of GS-9620 derivatives could ultimately lead to total dissolution of hepatitis B infections.
“This GS-9620 therapy represents the first conceptually new treatment for HBV in more than a decade, and combining it with the existing antiviral therapy could be transformative in dealing with this disease,” said Robert E. Lanford, Ph.D., co-author of the study and researcher at Texas Biomed.
About Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B Virus is a blood-borne pathogen that causes inflammation of the liver. It is often contracted through sexual contact, sharing needles, blood transfusions, and can be passed from mothers to unborn children. It has both acute and chronic strains and can either be a mild illness that leaves after a few weeks, or an ailment that will haunt the sufferer for their entire life.
The damage to the liver caused by hepatitis B infection increases the likelihood of cirrhosis, liver disease, and liver cancer. Liver cancer is the third most deadly form of cancer and the fifth most common throughout the world.
The Center for Disease Control in the United States claims that there are currently 1.4 million Americans infected with HBV, and many more worldwide where contraceptives and medical facilities are considerably less advanced.
The only known way to fight HBV infection is prevention through vaccination.