White River Junction VA looks into curative therapy for Hepatitis B

Vermont Business Magazine The VA Medical Center in White River Junction has recently initiated a joint venture with Excision Biotherapeutics to develop a curative therapy for hepatitis B virus infection. More than 2 billion people are infected with the hepatitis B virus worldwide, and of these, more than 350 million develop a chronic liver infection characterized by liver inflammation, cirrhosis, and ultimately liver cancer. The US veteran population is disproportionately affected by hepatitis B virus, and rates are even higher in homeless veterans compared to the general veteran population. Thus, developing approaches to cure hepatitis B infection is a critically important area of research for the VA.

The VA research laboratory, headed by Alexandra Howell, Ph.D., will focus on hepatitis B virus. “My team and I are developing a treatment by developing a way to damage genes that the hepatitis B virus requires to replicate.” The research team includes Susan Eszterhas, Ph.D., Michael Gleeson, M.D., Ph.D., Matthew Hayden, M.D., Ph.D., and laboratory assistant Taylor Hudson, B.S.

Excision Biotherapeutics (excisionbio.com) is a private company specializing in the development and commercialization of advanced gene editing technologies, called CRISPR/Cas, for the treatment of life-threatening viral diseases including HIV, hepatitis B, herpes simplex and human papilloma viral infections.

Dr. Howell and Dr. Eszterhas, with funding from the VA Merit Review program, have already utilized CRISPR/Cas gene editing for HIV infection, and have filed several patents on this new technology. This new joint-partnership with Excision Biotherapeutics is expected to fast-track the development of CRISPR/Cas gene editing therapeutics for hepatitis B infection, with the ultimate goal of initiating Phase I clinical trials.

Gene editing has emerged as a state-of-the-art approach to precisely modify genetic material in any human cell. There are two challenges researchers face with a gene editing approach. First, they must identify the specific viral genes to target. Second, there needs to be a way to deliver the therapy directly to liver cells. The VA research team will be testing the best way to deliver the therapy to the liver using a laboratory mouse model.

White River Junction VA Medical Center is excited to partner with Excision Biotherapeutics and embark on a journey to find a treatment that will benefit not only our Veterans but the general public across the globe.

Source: Veteran Affairs Medical Center