Direct-acting antiviral treatment for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is costly and does not protect from re-infection. For human and chimpanzees, recovery from acute HCV infection correlates with host CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses. DNA plasmids targeting the HCV non-structural antigens NS3, NS4, and NS5, were previously reported to induce robust and sustained T cell responses in mice and primates. These plasmids were combined with a plasmid encoding cytokine IL-28B, together named as VGX-6150. The dose-dependent T cell response and safety of VGX-6150 administered intramuscularly and followed by electroporation was assessed in mice. Immune responses plateaued at 20 μg/dose with IL-28B demonstrating significant immunoadjuvant activity. Mice administered VGX-6150 at 40, 400, and 800 μg given either as a single injection or as 14 injections given bi-weekly over 26 weeks showed no vaccine related changes in any clinical parameter compared to placebo recipients. There was no evidence of VGX-6150 accumulation at the injection site or in any organ 1 month following the 14th vaccination. Based on these studies, the approximate lethal dose (ALD) exceeds 800 μg/dose and the NOAEL was 800 μg/dose in mouse. In conclusion, VGX-6150 appears safe and a promising preventive vaccine candidate for HCV infection.
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