University of Birmingham researchers may have found a way to halt the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) that causes liver failure in 95% of transplant patients.


Re-infection of transplanted livers with the HCV virus can irreparably damage the new organ. The research team headed up by Professor Jane McKeating, Professor David Mutimer and Dr Ian Rowe have demonstrated that, if HCV can be stopped by a drug which blocks the virus entering the liver, the chances of the liver transplant being a success is greatly improved.

Dr Ian Rowe, who presented the research, said:  “This is the first trial in patients undergoing liver transplantation of a drug [known as ITX5061] that blocks HCV entry into the new liver. Until now we have only been able to study this process in the laboratory and this study has allowed us to learn about this process as it happens in patients.  ITX5061 treatment was safe and we hope that further studies of this drug in combination with others in development will improve the outcomes for this challenging group of patients.”

People who receive a new liver to replace an organ damaged by HCV infection are 95 per cent likely to experience recurrent infection after the transplant. The virus can be fast developing and can surpass pre-transplant levels within a few days.  More importantly, viral replication and ensuing injury can be more aggressive after the liver transplantation. This often means that the new liver becomes damaged, and to a level at which it can cease to function in just a few years. As many as a quarter of HCV infected patients who receive a transplant will experience liver failure, possibly leading to death, within ten years.

HCV is the second biggest cause of chronic liver disease leading to a transplant in the UK, and the leading cause in the USA. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) estimate that by 2020 15,840 individuals will be living with hepatitis C-related cirrhosis or cancer in England, more than 4,200 with decompensated cirrhosis or cancer for whom a liver transplant may be the only option.

Until now, doctors have been unable to prevent HCV, which circulates in the bloodstream, from entering the new liver – however results from a trial at Birmingham evaluating a HCV entry inhibitor drug, ITX5061, given before, during and after the transplant dramatically slows down the progress of the virus re-infecting the liver. Although the drug did not clear HCV completely from the blood of the patients, the results of this research suggest that it could be used as a treatment in conjunction with more conventional strategies.

The trial involved 23 patients undergoing liver transplantation.

Read more at the University of Birmingham

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