Experts gather to discuss liver disease prevention

Thursday, July 26, 2007
By Philip Baiocchi, Special to The China Post

Internationally renowned experts in the field of liver disease research and representatives from multinational pharmaceutical companies gathered at the Grand Hyatt Taipei for the commencement of “Bio Taiwan 2007” yesterday, following the conclusion of the two-day “BioBusiness Asia 2007” summit Tuesday.

Johnsee Lee, President of the Industrial Technology Research Institute which is hosting the conference in conjunction with the Taiwan Liver Disease Consortium, introduced the “First Symposium on Chronic Hepatitis and Liver Diseases.”

Lee expressed hopes that the work shared over the two days might help in the continuous effort to “dramatically improve world health,” and “bring other investment opportunities to the biotech industry.”

The group of distinguished speakers then convened on the center stage to place their hands on the liver-shaped dais, symbolizing the theme of the symposium, “Joining Hands to Fight Hepatitis B,” to kick off the proceedings.

Timothy Block, President of the Hepatitis B Foundation, spoke at length about some exciting developments in his research, including the detection of certain fucosylated proteins that may help in early disease identification.

Yun-Fan Liaw, Senior Advisor at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital followed with a presentation on current work being done on Chronic Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. Liaw was optimistic about the potential of some of the new HBV drugs being developed, such as Tenofovir.

The afternoon session continued the discussion on HBV with a presentation from Chiaho Shih, a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Shih spoke on the use of engineered HBV capsid particles as a vaccine delivery vehicle.

Liver disease is a serious issue, and very prevalent in Taiwan. According to the ITRI, more than three million people carry the Hepatitis B virus, and almost 400,000 Hepatitis C, leaving them over 100 times more likely to contract it.

Due to Taiwan’s specific requirement for hepatitis treatment, a large amount of field-leading research and development has and is taking place here. The ITRI boasts the most complete liver proteome database in the world, and has many other projects geared towards fighting liver diseases.

Ding-Shinn Chen, Dean of the National Taiwan University College of Medicine, said Taiwan’s research has also produced a vaccination for newborns against Hepatitis B. The hepatitis vaccination has effectively decreased the number of virus-carrying infants by 800,000. That is the equivalent of saving over 200,000 lives from death due to liver cancer.

Hepatitis remains an urgent issue, however. In an early morning speech, Wu Ming-chi, President of the Development Center for Biotechnology, made a plea for international cooperation and support in tackling disease throughout Asia.

“Disease has no borders,” Wu stated. “We need to fight the diseases together, instead of remaining isolated.”

Wu specifically mentioned avian flu, and hepatitis. He compared Taiwan’s current struggle with hepatitis to its long battle with malaria in the 1950s and 60s.

Wu expressed confidence that Taiwan would overcome hepatitis, just as it did malaria in 1965.

Bio Taiwan 2007 will continue tomorrow at the Hyatt, with a forum on “Therapeutics of Liver Diseases: Current Market Dynamics & Future Outlook.”

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