BHUBANESWAR: Even as Hepatitis B virus (HBV) claims nearly one million deaths worldwide every year, a new drug holds immense promise for treatment and cure of the chronic infection.
With clinical trials in advanced stages across several countries in Asia, Asia Pacific region, Latin America, Europe and Australia, the novel therapeutic vaccine NasVac could be available for use in as early as 2018-19, hepatologist and secretary general of Association for the Study of Liver, Bangladesh Dr Mamun-Al-Mahtab said on Tuesday.
NasVac induces a much effective immune response to the virus in the body, leading to control of virus replication and ultimate elimination from the body. The therapeutic vaccine cannot be called a wonder drug but has shown to have a response rate of more than 50 per cent, Dr Mahtab said.
As of now, there is no cure for HBV and conventional treatment aims at suppressing the HBV proteins to slow down progression to complications like cirrhosis and liver cancer and improve long-term survival rates. However, the treatment has its side effects and even leads to drug resistance.
“NasVac opens a new avenue for HBV treatment. After successful trials, the drug is now set to be registered in Cuba and Latin American countries like Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil this year. Europe is likely to register it by 2018 and hopefully by 2019, it would be open across the world,” the researcher and expert said.
Dr Mahtab was here to deliver the annual Blumberg oration organised by Kalinga Gastroenterology Foundation (KGF) on the occasion of World Hepatitis Day. He said unlike other dreaded Hepatitis C infection, which has a cure, HBV patients have to carry the virus lifelong with 20 to 30 per cent adults, who are chronically infected, developing cirrhosis or liver cancer.
South Asian countries like India and Bangladesh lie in the intermediate zone with a prevalence rate of five to eight per cent. However, there are pockets, particularly tribal communities in India, where up to 15 per cent are infected.
“While medical advances may bring in more effective treatment regimens, it will still be a long time before the population in low resource settings can be covered. Therefore, prevention is key. Though the Government has included HBV vaccine in its routine immunisation schedule, more intense efforts should be made to raise awareness and train doctors and paramedics in early detection and referral of patients,” KGF president Prof SP Singh said.
The KGF organised several programmes including street plays to raise awareness on HBV. The Institute of Medical Sciences and Sum Hospital also observed the day by hosting awareness programmes for medicos and common people.
“Though there is a very effective vaccine against HBV, awareness is missing,” HoD, Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Dr Manoj Kumar Sahu said.