Professor Edward Gane
Professor Edward Gane

27 November 2014

Auckland City Hospital hepatologist and liver transplant specialist Professor Edward Gane received the Health Research Council of New Zealand’s distinguished Liley Medal at the 2014 Research Honours Dinner in Wellington last night for demonstrating a safer, more effective treatment for people with hepatitis C virus.

The Liley Medal recognises Professor Gane’s outstanding contribution to the health and medical sciences in the field of clinical hepatology. Professor Gane was the lead author on two very highly cited papers in the prestigious medical journal, New England Journal of Medicine, which showed that people could be cured of the hepatitis C virus in just 12 weeks using an antiviral treatment called sofosbuvir.

“Less than 1 per cent of New Zealanders infected with hepatitis C are treated each year because the current treatment, which uses interferon, is not very effective and is poorly tolerated,” says Professor Gane.

Interferon occurs naturally in the human body. When extra quantities of it are injected into the body, the immune system is stimulated to fight off hepatitis C. Unfortunately, because interferon is given by weekly injections at a much higher dose than what the body produces naturally, it can cause many adverse side effects.

The antiviral treatment successfully developed and tested by Professor Gane has become the first interferon-free treatment for people with hepatitis C infection.

“Hepatitis C virus has become the global and silent epidemic of this century, affecting more than 180 million people. Here in New Zealand, almost 50 per cent of adult liver transplants are for hepatitis C virus-related liver failure,” says Professor Gane.

“Hepatitis C virus has now overtaken hepatitis B virus as the leading cause of liver cancer.”

“Even in infected individuals who never develop cirrhosis, hepatitis C virus infection is often associated with fatigue and reduced quality of life.”

The HRC's Acting Chief Executive, Dr Tania Pocock, says Professor Gane’s studies have been instrumental in helping to develop safer, more effective and better tolerated therapies for hepatitis C virus that are of short duration.

“The impact of this research is substantial due to the high prevalence of the disease worldwide and the relatively simple treatment developed and tested by Professor Gane,” says Dr Pocock.