The Scientist Who Discovered Hepatitis C Says He's Now Discovered the Vaccine

Illustration for article titled The Scientist Who Discovered Hepatitis C Says He's Now Discovered the Vaccine

In a poetic turn of virology, the scientist who discovered hepatitis C in 1989 has now also discovered a vaccine that will hopefully treat and prevent the disease.


Not only is it poetic, it's an accomplishment that many thought was impossible. Because hepatitis C is more virulent than HIV, no one was confident a vaccine against all the various strains around the world could be developed. But Michael Houghton, the University of Alberta researcher who announced his work today at the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Summit in Vancouver, says his vaccine works against every known strain of the virus.

It could still be up to seven years before the vaccine goes through the necessary phases of clinical trials and receives FDA approval, but it's amazing news for people who thought they'd be living with hepatitis C for the rest of their lives. It also remains to be seen how much impact the vaccine will have in people who already have the disease—it will be most effective as a preventive against acquiring the disease. Hundreds of thousands of people get hepatitis C every year, and 20 to 30 percent of them develop liver disease.

Researchers at Oxford have also made progress towards a vaccine. With news out earlier today that hepatitis C now kills more Americans than HIV, a vaccine can't come soon enough. [Bioresearch Online]

Image: University of Alberta



Maybe it's pedantry, but vaccines are almost never "discovered". (Jenner and vaccinia is the only example I can think of.) Vaccine are "made". There aren't complete vaccines sitting out there, waiting to be found; scientists have to painstakingly try hundreds or thousands of different ideas. There also isn't "the" vaccine. Dr. Houghton may well have created "a" vaccine, and indeed I hope he has, but to imply that it is some unique thing, and that nothing else could possible work, is a fundamental misunderstanding of vaccine therapy.

Of course, the fact that I'm doing my graduate thesis designing vaccines may make me a little more picky than absolutely necessary.