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Research project

Repurposing FDA-approved drugs for treating hepatitis E virus infection

We aim to develop new antiviral strategies based on existing medications that are safe, cheap, effective and readily applicable to treat hepatitis E patients in real world.

What we do

About our project

Emerging of HEV infection
Hepatitis viruses primary infect human liver. Hepatitis E virus (HEV) infection has emerged as an important global health burden. Globally, HEV infection is the most common cause of acute hepatitis. It yearly causes around 20 million infections which result in around 3 million acute illnesses and 70,000 deaths worldwide. Thus, hepatitis E has now emerged as a true global health challenge.

Challenges in managing hepatitis E
Although hepatitis E was discovered in early 1980th, the clinical burden was only paid attention recently. Besides supportive care and off-label treatment for some chronic cases, there is no proven anti-HEV medication available. Ribavirin as off-label drug is effective for treating some chronic hepatitis E cases. However, the remaining challenges include that not all chronic HEV patients respond to ribavirin, the emerging of potential resistance strains and the substantial side effects that limit the applications in pregnant women, young children and elderly patients.

Antiviral development against HEV
We aim to employ the FDA-approved exiting medications to combat hepatitis E. These approaches do not require the development of new drugs, thereby readily applicable to the real world for treating patients from developing to developed counties with acute or chronic infection. By implementation of these results in the clinical setting, this shall revolutionize the current management of hepatitis E and represent as a milestone in response to the global call towards the elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030.

Our research focus

Liver organoids model HEV infection
Organoids are “mini-organs” on a dish in 3D culture that are generated from adult stem cells. Compared to 2D culture of immortalized cell lines, they are much better in recapitulating the architecture, composition, diversity and organization of cell types of the organ/tissue of origin. We have recently established that HEV is capable of infecting human liver organoids in 3D culture. This model system is excellent for studying HEV-host interactions and assessing antiviral drugs.

Repurposing FDA drugs
Repurposing the existing FDA drugs represent a cost-effective approach to discover novel anti-HEV drugs that are ready for clinical application. We first screen a FDA drug library in cell culture of HEV infection to identify leading candidates. These candidates will be further validated in liver organoids and animal models. We expected that the extensively validated anti-HEV drugs can be potentially applied in the clinic as off-label treatment for HEV patients. 

Our team

Wanlu Cao, PhD, w.cao@erasmusmc.nl

Yunlong Li, PhD candidate, y.li.3@erasmusmc.nl

Yang Li, PhD candidate, y.li.2@erasmusmc.nl

Pengfei Li, PhD candidate, p.li@erasmusmc.nl

Qiuwei Pan, PhD, q.pan@erasmusmc.nl