Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major global pathogen with more than 160 million people worldwide are chronically infected by the disease. Left untreated HCV will progress to severe liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer.
HCV-related deaths worldwide annually exceed 350,000, comparable to AIDS, TB and malaria. In high-income countries HCV accounts for substantially more deaths than all three of these diseases combined, and is the most common reason for liver transplantation in the UK where there are believed to be 350,000 chronic HCV carriers.
The burden of HCV disease falls on the poor. Current drug treatments are prohibitively expensive even within the UK, and have limiting side effects and achieve sustained clearance of the virus in only 50 to 60% of patients.