Meta-Analysis of Hepatitis C Virus Vaccine Efficacy in Chimpanzees Indicates an Importance for Structural Proteins

Studies in patients and chimpanzees that spontaneously cleared hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections demonstrated that natural immunity to the virus is induced during primary infections and that this immunity can be cross protective. These discoveries led to optimism about prophylactic HCV vaccines, and several studies were performed in chimpanzees, although most included fewer than 6 animals. To draw meaningful conclusions about the efficacy of HCV vaccines in chimpanzees, we performed statistical analyses of data from previously published studies from different groups. METHODS: We performed a meta-analysis that compared parameters among naive (n = 63), vaccinated (n = 53), and rechallenged (n = 36) animals, including peak RNA titer post-challenge, time points of peak RNA titer, duration of viremia, and proportion of persistent infections. RESULTS: Each vaccination study induced immune responses that were effective in rapidly controlling HCV replication. Levels of induced T-cell responses did not indicate vaccine success. There was no reduction in the rate of HCV persistence in vaccinated animals, compared with naive animals, when nonstructural proteins were included in the vaccine. Vaccines that contained only structural proteins had clearance rates that were significantly higher than vaccines that contained nonstructural components (P = .015). CONCLUSIONS: The inclusion of nonstructural proteins in HCV vaccines might be detrimental to protective immune responses, and/or structural proteins might activate T-cell responses that mediate viral clearance.