Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

  • Vaccine proves effective against hepatitis E


Chinese scientists have developed a promising vaccine against hepatitis E that they say safely protects most adults from the infectious disease, which kills many people in countries with poor sanitation.

The researchers' HEV 239 vaccine was 100 per cent effective in a phase III trial on healthy adults of both sexes. The results were published online in The Lancet last week (23 August).  It is the first vaccine against the disease to reach this stage.

In the trial, participants were randomly assigned three doses of either HEV 239 or a placebo vaccine. Two doses were given within a month, with the third in the sixth month. The trial lasted a further 13 months. At the end of this period, none of the patients given the HEV 239 vaccine contracted hepatitis E, compared with 15 in the placebo group. "Adverse effects attributable to the vaccine were few and mild," the authors wrote.

China's State Food and Drug Administration is now examining the vaccine. "It might take months or more than a year for the government to complete the process," said Xia Ningshao, lead author and director of the Institute of Diagnostics and Vaccine Development in Infectious Diseases, Xiamen University.

Hepatitis E is a leading cause of acute hepatitis in Africa, Mexico and South Asia. "In India, more than 50 per cent of the clinical acute hepatitis cases are infected with this virus," Xia says. "Our vaccine will definitely benefit the people in these countries and whoever travels there."

Scott Holmberg, an expert on viral hepatitis with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agreed the vaccine may be important for tackling hepatitis E outbreaks while developing countries improve their sanitation infrastructure.

But he pointed out that the vaccine needs further trials for pregnant women and infants, who are "more likely to die from hepatitis E infection but were not included in the study".

Up to a quarter of pregnant women who catch hepatitis E die from it, and survivors have high rates of spontaneous abortion and stillbirth.

"There's no reason at present to think the vaccine will not work for these special populations but until they are vaccinated it will remain a question mark," said Holmberg, adding that researchers do not yet know how long the vaccine remains effective.

Patients with other chronic liver diseases, a group in particular need of a vaccine, were also excluded from the study.

"Additional research is needed to assess the benefit of HEV 239 (in this regard)" say the authors.   

Link to full study in The Lancet*

*Free registration is required to view this article


The Lancet doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)61030-6 (2010)

We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.