Christopher C Phelps1, Christopher M Walker12, Jonathan R Honegger12
1Center for Vaccines and Immunity, Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, OH 43205, USA.
2Department of Pediatrics, The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.
Thirty years after its discovery, the hepatitis C virus (HCV) remains a leading cause of liver disease worldwide. Given that many countries continue to experience high rates of transmission despite the availability of potent antiviral therapies, an effective vaccine is seen as critical for the elimination of HCV. The recent failure of the first vaccine efficacy trial for the prevention of chronic HCV confirmed suspicions that this virus will be a challenging vaccine target. Here, we examine the published data from this first efficacy trial along with the earlier clinical and pre-clinical studies of the vaccine candidate and then discuss three key research directions expected to be important in ongoing and future HCV vaccine development. These include the following: 1. design of novel immunogens that generate immune responses to genetically diverse HCV genotypes and subtypes, 2. strategies to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies against envelope glycoproteins in addition to cytotoxic and helper T cell responses, and 3. consideration of the unique immunological status of individuals most at risk for HCV infection, including those who inject drugs, in vaccine platform development and early immunogenicity trials.