They are working on an effective vaccine against HCV and HBV

Virologists from the Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Gdańsk are working on the creation of an effective new-generation vaccine protecting against infection with hepatitis C and B viruses. A decision has already been made to grant a patent for the invention entitled 'Chimeric virus-like particles exposing HCV antigenic sequences for use in the preventive treatment of HCV and/or HBV infection'.

Hepatitis C virus is a major medical problem worldwide. There are approximately 2 million infections per year. In about 80% of patients, the infection progresses to a chronic form, which may not produce any specific symptoms for years. The chronic form of the disease in 20% of cases leads to severe liver damage, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Unfortunately, despite ongoing research, an effective vaccine against HCV is still not available.

As virologists from the Intercollegiate Faculty of Biotechnology UG and GUMed convince, the biggest obstacle in designing an effective vaccine is the high genetic variability of the HCV virus. Therefore, an ideal vaccine should induce an immune response against the most conserved fragments of viral proteins.

This is what the authors of the invention from the Department of Molecular Biology of Viruses at the Institute of Biotechnology UG are working on: prof. Krystyna Bieńkowska-Szewczyk, dr Katarzyna Grzyb and mgr Anna Czarnota.

- 'The invention concerns recombinant virus-like particles exposing on their surface selected antigenic sequences derived from hepatitis C virus to be used as an immunogenic vaccine against infections caused by hepatitis C and/or B viruses,' says prof. Krystyna Bieńkowska-Szewczyk.

So how to create an effective new-generation vaccine?

- 'One of the ways to induce an immune response against single protein fragments is their exposure on the surface of virus-like particles. Virus-like particles are currently of great interest because they are very similar to viruses, hence their high immunogenicity. However, they are not viruses, because they do not contain the genetic material of the virus, and therefore they cannot multiply,' - says dr Katarzyna Grzyb.

As the researcher convinces, this guarantees, among others, a higher safety level of vaccines obtained in this way over more traditional methods in which modified or inactivated viruses are used.

- 'The protein that can form virus-like particles is the small hepatitis B surface protein (sHBsAg). Due to its ability to form highly immunogenic virus-like particles, the sHBsAg protein is currently used in available HBV vaccines. Moreover, due to their high immunogenic potential, sHBsAg particles can be used as carriers exposing antigens of other human pathogens,' - explains dr Katarzyna Grzyb.

- 'In our invention, exposing highly conserved fragments of HCV virus proteins on the surface of virus-like particles based on sHBsAg protein allowed for creating bivalent immunogens inducing a response against both HCV and HBV,' - adds mgr Anna Czarnota. - 'In the future, our solution could be used as an effective new-generation vaccine protecting against infection with these dangerous pathogens.'.

The invention was created within the NCN project Preludium 12, whose manager is mgr Anna Czarnota.

Elżbieta Michalak-Witkowska/Press Office UG