Hepatitis E vaccine proves to be effective but expensive

By Gene Emery BOSTON, Reuters

An experimental vaccine can prevent more than 95 percent of infections with hepatitis E but its makers said on Wednesday they need to find a way to make it cheaply available in the poor countries plagued by the disease that need it most.

An official of GlaxoSmithKline, which developed the vaccine in collaboration with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C., said it likely will be five to seven years before further tests allow the company to seek licensing approval.

Little-known in developed countries, hepatitis E is a liver disease usually spread by contaminated water. It makes people sick for one to four weeks and is fatal for one out of 50 people. The death toll among pregnant women can be as high as 25 percent.

Hepatitis E was first recognized two decades years ago.

“It is the leading cause of jaundice and hepatitis among adolescents and young adults in most parts of the developing world but particularly in Asia and Africa,” GlaxoSmithKline’s Bruce Innis, one of the study’s authors, said in a telephone interview.

The vaccine is most needed in areas of the world that may not be able to afford it.

Innis said the company is looking for a partner, such as a philanthropic foundation, to help make it available at a low price and explore whether it can be administered in combination with vaccines already given routinely to children.

The developers studied its effectiveness in 2,000 Nepalese soldiers in Kathmandu.

The virus is so common that 7 percent of the volunteers who received a placebo became ill just during the 30 months of the study.