Researchers at the University of Westminster have developed a groundbreaking method which can be used to test a new innovative cure for hepatitis C, a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).

The cure is the first of its kind ever to be tested in humans and comes in the form of a drug based on gene therapy which is under development by the Australian company Benitec Biopharma.

Around 150 million people worldwide are infected with hepatitis C, and more than 350,000 people die every year from hepatitis C related liver diseases. Hepatitis C is one of the leading causes of liver cirrhosis and cancer, and one of the most common and seriously infectious conditions in the world (according to the World Health Organisation (WHO)).

Although treatments are already available for hepatitis C, these are lengthy, have low chances of success, cause significant side-effects, or the virus is already becoming resistant. The new drug, TT-034, developed by Benitec Biopharma, is based on the biological mechanism for which the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded in 2006. Unlike anything else currently available to patients, this treatment works with a single injection to directly destroy the hepatitis C virus and remove the infection. The drug is currently undergoing clinical trials in the US with results expected in the coming months.

Dr Sterghios A. Moschos, MSB, Director of Westminster Genomic Services at the University of Westminster, developed the comprehensive and innovative method by adapting state-of-the-art genome sequencing technologies to show exactly how the new drug works. The research was conducted in collaboration with the European Bioinformatics Institute and Benitec Biopharma.

Dr Moschos said: “Our entirely new method to test the new drug has had a major impact on building robust confidence in this innovative therapy. For the first time ever we have shown that there are more ways to hit the hepatitis C infection than previously thought possible, and that this treatment works like a combination of multiple drugs. Our approach has helped Benitec Biopharma, to obtain permission to start clinical trials much earlier than we expected. This is unprecedented for gene therapy, particularly for a disease for which treatments already exist.”

For further information you can read the research paper published on Molecular Therapy Nucleic Acids at nature.com.

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