In what could revolutionise treatment of patients infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV), scientists have isolated a new compound from Chinese herbal medicines that can inhibit HCV activity by approximately 90 percent.
The new compound, SBEL1, was extracted from a herb found in certain regions of Taiwan and Southern China.
In Chinese medicine, it is used to treat sore throats and inflammations. The function of SBEL1 within the plant is unknown and its role and origins are currently being investigated.
“Recent advances means that we can now virtually cure HCV without unpleasant side effects,” said Markus Peck-Radosavljevic, associate professor of medicine at University of Vienna in Austria.
In the past, less than 20 percent of all HCV patients were treated because the available treatments were unsuitable due to poor efficacy and high toxicity, Peck-Radosavljevic said.
For the research, scientists pre-treated human liver cells in vitro with SBEL1 prior to HCV infection and found that SBEL1 pre-treated cells contained 23 percent less HCV protein than the control, suggesting that SBEL1 blocks virus entry.
“SBEL1 has demonstrated significant inhibition of HCV at multiple stages of the viral lifecycle, which is an exciting discovery because it allows us to gain a deeper understanding of the virus and its interactions with other compounds,” Peck-Radosavljevic noted.
There are an estimated 150 million to 200 million people living with chronic HCV and more than 350,000 people die annually from HCV-related diseases.
HCV is transmitted through blood contact between an infected individual and someone who is not infected.
This can occur through needlestick injuries or sharing of equipment used to inject drugs.