Oral Vaccine Sought for Hepatitis B

By Weiss, Rick | Science News, July 18, 1987 | Go to article overview

Oral Vaccine Sought for Hepatitis B


Weiss, Rick, Science News


Oral vaccine sought for hepatitis B

Each year in the United States, approximately300,000 people become infected with the hepatitis B virus--a major cause of acute and chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. In the Third World, hepatitis B is even more prevalent, despite the availability of effective hepatitis vaccinations since 1982. Why haven't more people opted for immunization?

Widespread U.S. immunization hasbeen hampered by the high cost of the vaccine (about $115 for the required three-shot regimen) and an apparent unwillingness, even among high-risk individuals such as health care professionals and drug abusers, to undergo the injection series. Internationally, these problems are exacerbated by the shortage of sterile syringes and the need to keep the vaccine refrigerated.

Now, however, researchers report significantprogress toward developing an oral vaccine against hepatitis B--one that would require no special handling or paraphernalia and may be cheaper to produce.

Paul P. Hung and his colleagues atWyeth Laboratories in Philadelphia published the results of their work in the July PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (Vol.84, No.13). The research team started with a live adenovirus vaccine, which in tablet form has proved effective in inducing immunity against adenovirus respiratory disease in humans. They then spliced into the adenovirus genome the coding sequence for hepatitis B surface antigen--a molecular conformation that, when recognized by the body's immune system, triggers the production of antibodies against hepatitis B. In the experiments, hamsters were inoculated through their noses with the hepatitis-B-spliced viruses, which subsequently replicated in the animals' lungs. Within 33 days, all of the hamsters had produced antibodies to both adenovirus and hepatitis B.

"Our results demonstrate the potentialutility of recombinant adenoviruses as live oral vaccines,' the authors conclude. And although they are unwilling to predict when the experiments may progress to human clinical trials, they say that "On the whole, these data indicate a good prospect for developing recombinant adenovirus vaccines that will effectively immunize humans against [hepatitis B]. …

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Oral Vaccine Sought for Hepatitis B
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