New Investment Takes Hepatitis B Research One Step Closer to Finding a Cure

New Investment Takes Hepatitis B Research One Step Closer to Finding a Cure

Melbourne scientists have been awarded $1.7 million over the next five years, to advance world-first research into a cure for hepatitis B virus infection thanks to a grant from the mRNA Victoria Activation Program.

Chronic hepatitis B disease, caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, remains a significant worldwide public health issue, with an estimated 296 million people chronically infected including over 226,000 Australians.

There is no cure for chronic hepatitis B disease. Current Hepatitis B treatment can reduce the progression of liver disease by stopping the virus from replicating, however treatment is lifelong and does not fully eliminate the risk of liver cancer. New approaches to treat and cure HBV infection are needed.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Dr Margaret Littlejohn is a Senior Medical Scientist in the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) at the Doherty Institute. She is the Chief Investigator of a research project looking to develop a new RNA-based therapy for chronic hepatitis B.

“Chronic hepatitis B hasn’t been cured so far in part because current therapies have failed to destroy the reservoir of viral DNA, where the virus hides in the cells of the liver,” Dr Littlejohn explains.

Using CRISPR technology, a highly significant new technique that allows scientists to modify or destroy targeted DNA sequences, Dr Littlejohn’s team has already made some promising discoveries, in collaboration with scientists at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

“Our PhD student Laura McCoullough has developed a new potential treatment against HBV infection that reduces HBV replication in laboratory cell culture models,” Dr Littlejohn said.

“But the viral reservoir in the cells in the liver was not impacted by this approach."

To address this, the researchers will also specifically target the viral DNA reservoir.

“This means we can target the complete HBV lifecycle, the first such project to do this worldwide, and we plan to deliver these treatments to the liver as RNA molecules in lipid nanoparticles, similar to the technology used in COVID vaccines,” Dr Littlejohn explained.

“Our work will pave the way for clinical studies that may lead to a new HBV therapy, benefiting all who currently live with chronic HBV infection,” said the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Professor Peter Revill, Head of Molecular Research & Development at VIDRL at the Doherty Institute.

Read the original article on Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity.