Despite the recent development of safe and highly effective direct-acting antivirals, hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection remains a significant health problem. In 2016, the World Health Organization set out to reduce the rate of new HCV infections by 90% by 2030. Still, global control of the virus does not seem to be achievable in the absence of an effective vaccine. Current approaches to the development of a vaccine against HCV include the production of recombinant proteins, synthetic peptides, DNA vaccines, virus-like particles, and viral vectors expressing various antigens. In this review, we focus on the development of vaccines targeting the humoral immune response against HCV based on the cumulative evidence supporting the important role of neutralizing antibodies in protection against HCV infection. The main targets of HCV-specific neutralizing antibodies are the glycoproteins E1 and E2. Recent advances in the knowledge of HCV glycoprotein structure and their epitopes, as well as the possibility of getting detailed information on the human antibody repertoire generated by the infection, will allow rational structure-based antigen design to target specific germline antibodies. Although obtaining a vaccine capable of inducing sterilizing immunity will be a difficult task, a vaccine that prevents chronic hepatitis C infections, a more realistic goal in the short term, would have a considerable health impact.
Keywords: Antibody; Glycoprotein E1; Glycoprotein E2; HCV; Humoral immune response; Vaccine; Virus neutralization.