HIV/Hepatitis C awareness ribbonFormer Merck Unit Works on First Vaccine for Hepatitis C

Thursday 15 March 2012

Okairos AG, a biotechnology business that Merck & Co. (MRK) sold to venture capital funds in 2007, is seeking to produce the first preventive vaccine for hepatitis C, challenging makers of treatments for the disease.

No vaccine exists for hepatitis C, which affects as many as 170 million people globally, putting them at risk of developing liver cancer, according to the World Health Organization. The growing population of patients infected with the virus spurred Gilead Sciences Inc. (GILD)’s decision in November to buy experimental hepatitis C-treatment maker Pharmasset Inc. for $10.8 billion and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (BMY)’s acquisition in February of Inhibitex Inc. for $2.5 billion.

Okairos’s vaccine would target those who may be at risk of infection. The disease is most commonly transmitted through contaminated blood transfusions, organ transplants, contaminated syringes and needle-injected drug use, according to the WHO.

Most preventive vaccines stimulate the production of antibodies, molecules produced by the immune system as part of the body’s defenses. Development of Okarios’s vaccine was triggered by studies of patients with early-stage hepatitis C, of whom about 20 percent spontaneously clear the virus and avoid advancing to the chronic phase, Woiwode said.

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Article submitted by Sue Threakall

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