BARCELONA, Spain, April 13 (UPI) -- With about 2.3 million people worldwide infected with both HIV and hepatitis C virus, and HCV being the non-AIDS cause of death in these people, the potential to treat or prevent both at once would be a significant opportunity, say researchers in a recent study.
Researchers at the University of Oxford found simultaneously giving investigational vaccines for both viral infections -- neither which has a cure -- did not affect the immune response expected from either separately, according to a study presented at the 2016 International Liver Congress in Spain.
The English researchers are part of the PEACHI consortium, a research group pursuing treatment and prevention of HIV and HCV co-infection. About 37 million people around the world have HIV, while 115 million have HCV, with HIV patients six times more likely to have HCV as well, according to a study published earlier this year.
Combining the two vaccines made sense to researchers at Oxford, they said, because both infections affect immune response in the body and can easily lead to death. Having both infections requires doctors not only to find the right treatments for each but to be sure the drugs will not interact poorly.
"This study shows for the first time that it is possible to generate simultaneous immune response against diseases HCV and HIV, raising the possibility of a combined vaccination," Dr. Laurent Castera, secretary general of the European Association for the Study of the Liver, said in a press release.
For the study, researchers recruited 32 healthy volunteers, giving one group an HCV investigational vaccine at weeks 0 and 8 of the study, another group an HIV investigational vaccine at the same points in a study and giving a third group both vaccines.
Both vaccines caused the expected immune response by HIV- and HCV-specific T cells in patients receiving them, with researchers reporting the vaccines given together did not appear to impair immune response to either.
Two other studies presented at the International Liver Congress found HIV infection did not affect HCV treatment, showing the potential exists to treat people with both infections, if not prevent more people from acquiring both.
"Knowing that it may be possible to vaccinate a single individual against both diseases opens up huge possibilities for rolling back epidemics of disease and co-infection," said Dr. Ellie Barnes, an immunologist at Oxford University.