Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major global disease burden, often leading to chronic liver diseases, cirrhosis, cancer, and death in those infected. Despite the recent approval of antiviral therapeutics, a preventative vaccine is recognized as the most effective means to control HCV globally, particularly in at-risk and developing country populations. Here we describe the efforts and challenges related to the development of an HCV vaccine, which after decades of research have not been successful. Viral sequence variability poses a major challenge, yet recent research has provided unprecedented views of the atomic structure of HCV epitopes and immune recognition by antibodies and T cell receptors. This, coupled with insights from deep sequencing, robust neutralization assays, and other technological advances, is spurring research toward rationally HCV designed vaccines that preferentially elicit responses toward conserved epitopes of interest that are associated with viral neutralization and clearance.
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