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Hepatitis E Vaccine — Insects to the Rescue of Hepatitis E Sufferers
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Hepatitis E Vaccine — Insects to the Rescue of Hepatitis E Sufferers
Prof Yong Xie (left) and his research team.

HKUST may not have a medical school, but increasingly our scientists are having much to say about human health through their innovative lab work. This time, the good news comes from a team led by Prof Yong Xie from our Division of Life Science. They have successfully developed a new vaccine candidate for the prevention of hepatitis E, which affects one-third of the world’s population.

Hepatitis E, an infection of the liver, caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV for short), is mainly spread through fecal contamination of water supplies and food. With 6.5 million HEV cases in South Asia and East Asia alone, there is an urgent need to find an effective vaccine to contain and prevent its outbreak. 

The team led by Prof Xie toiled away for the last year and a half before their efforts paid off. The vaccine candidate they developed uses an innovative moth cell expression system whose protein folding structure approaches that of the natural HEV protein. This represents the first time in the world that insect cell technology has been used to create a vaccine candidate to prevent HEV. By simplifying the production process, this novel technology cuts down on the production costs. Preclinical trials are proceeding smoothly and promisingly as planned.

This research project is significant in another way. Having forged a close collaboration with an industry partner, the Beijing Luzhu Biopharmaceutical Co. Ltd (“Luzhu”), HKUST’s Prof Xie was able to facilitate the signing of a significant cooperation agreement between Luzhu and our R & D Corporation Ltd.

HKUST scientists, true to their mission of contributing to the solution of pressing global problems, are proud of their achievement. They have discovered an innovative way to produce vaccines more cost-effectively as a weapon against a public health menace in which the death rate among children and pregnant women remains dangerously high. And they are delighted that by thinking outside the box, the solution was found in a most unlikely place—in the cells of a moth.