Kiwi researcher's acclaim for breakthrough in hepatitis C treatment

A New Zealand researcher has been recognised for a major breakthrough in the treatment of a virus which causes liver failure.

Professor Edward Gane was one of more than a dozen researchers and scholars awarded medals by the Royal Society of New Zealand at a ceremony in Wellington last night.

Professor Gane, from Auckland City Hospital and the Auckland District Health Board, received the Liley Medal for his work on an improved treatment for hepatitis C, which is a major cause of liver failure in New Zealand.

After the bad blood screening scandal in the 1990's, hundreds of Kiwis contracted hepatitis accidentally from tainted blood products. Many were given the drug Interferon to treat it, but for many patients, it failed.

Auckland father Jack Finn has battled Hepatitis C since he was nine and says he experienced "dizzy spells, I had to sleep lots during the day, I was depressed."

Five years ago Finn's hepatologist teamed up with a local biotech company, and together with Professor Gane and his team had approval to trial a new drug called Sofosbuvir.

Professor Gane says: "We initially treated people for 12 weeks treatment with this single tablet plus an older type of tablet called Ribovirum and that, in that very small study, cured almost everyone.

"Sofosbuvir is not only a potent drug which works against all types of Hepatitis C, it also has what we call a high barrier to resistance and that is why it is so effective."

Later, international trials confirmed Sofosbuvir works by blocking the active site in the body the virus uses to reproduce.

Sofosbuvir has cured over 500 Hepatitis C patients so far, eliminating their risk of liver cancer and transplant.

Chemistry and physics researcher Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger won the prestigious Rutherford medal at last night's awards.

Other medal winners included Professor Alistair Gunn for his cooling cap research to prevent brain injury in babies, and Professor Parry Guilford for his work isolating the gene mutation for hereditary stomach cancer.

A dozen researchers have been honoured with medals by the Royal Society of New Zealand. Source: 1 NEWS

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