Anti-Cancer Drug Can Help Cure Hepatitis B, Study Suggests

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Sample analysis tubes are seen in a lab at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton, July 15, 2013. Picture taken July 15, 2013.
IN PHOTO: Sample analysis tubes are seen in a lab at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton, July 15, 2013. Picture taken July 15, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

A group of scientists from Australia has discovered a possible cure for hepatitis B virus (HBV), which is a chronic disease that has no definitive cure yet. The preclinical models of the research yielded a 100 percent success rate in eliminating the viral infection that causes the disease.

The researchers from Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have developed a combination treatment for HBV, which is composed of an antiviral drug and an anti-cancer drug. The ongoing study is now on its 1/2a clinical trial phase in Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide. This possible breakthrough was formulated using an anti-cancer treatment drug called birinapant, which was developed by a biotech company called TetraLogic Pharmaceuticals in the U.S.

The research, which was conducted by Dr Marc Pellegrini, Dr Greg Ebert and colleagues, was published in two papers in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research and the treatment findings were based on the authors’ previous studies of the HBV’s cell characteristics.

The result of the study of the preclinical models were said to be 100 percent effective in treating HBV infections in hundreds of testings, Pellegrini said. This paved the way for human trials, which was initiated in December of 2014.

The researchers said that birinapant was efficient in destroying the liver cells infected with HBV, without causing damage to the normal cells. Furthermore, the infection was cleared twice as fast when birinapant was administered with an anti-cancer drug called entecavir. They are looking forward to the possibility that the same positive results will come out of the human trials.

HBV and other other pathogens that cause chronic infections inhabit inside the host’s cells The mechanism of action of the newly developed treatment involve targeting the cell pathways that provides signals to the HBV. These signals are responsible for preventing the death of the host cells. "Normally, liver cells would respond to infection by switching on a signal that tells the cell to destroy itself 'for the greater good', preventing further infection," Pellegrini said. However, he said that the drug they came up with allows the cells to stay alive and to not destroy itself despite the infection present. Birinapant then reverses the cell mechanism used by the virus, causing death of the infected cells.

The appearance of drug-resistant HBV strains may be reduced if treatments will focus on enabling the host cell to eliminate the virus from itself, rather than attacking the virus, Pellegrini said. He further explains that an organism may easily adapt to a drug, but an alteration in the hosts cell may be too challenging for a virus to adapt.

Currently, the research team is looking at applying their latest findings in the treatment of other chronic infectious diseases. Other similar infectious diseases that can benefit from the same treatment include HIV, herpes simplex, dengue fever and bacterial infections including tuberculosis, Pellegrini closes.

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