Hepatitis B test

Left untreated, long-term liver inflammation caused by Hepatitis B leads to cirrhosis and cancer - but if the inflammation is detected early enough, patients can be treated to prevent those serious complications from developing.

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Left untreated, long-term liver inflammation caused by Hepatitis B leads to cirrhosis and cancer - but if the inflammation is detected early enough, patients can be treated to prevent those serious complications from developing.

The current testing method - a liver biopsy - is invasive, expensive, and carries some risk for patients.

Dr Bill Abbott, from the New Zealand Liver Transplant Unit of the Auckland District Health Board, invented a cost-effective, non-invasive diagnostic blood test that can detect active liver disease caused by hepatitis B (specifically genotype C) up to eight years before serious complications occur.

Bill has spent his working life doing viral research, especially on mutations within virus genomic make-up, and his innovative new test is a culmination of extensive research.

It will enable patients to have preventative treatment before complications develop – complications which might necessitate a liver transplant costing around $200,000. This will result in significant cost savings for our health system.

Bill brought his project to NZHIH, and we contracted Wellington UniVentures to support its development. They used their networks to connect Bill with one of the world’s foremost hepatologists, Professor Jin-Lin Hou from China’s Southern Medical University, who is now working with Bill on development of the diagnostic kit. Clinical trials were held up by COVID travel restrictions - leading Bill to advise other innovators not to have their idea in the middle of a pandemic!

Already the original technology has been adapted to include more sophisticated computer data analysis and a more detailed database of mutations than was used in the pilot study.

Wellington UniVentures has also brokered a licensing agreement with a major Chinese biotech company which will develop the testing kits in China and use its established distribution systems to sell them. Sales royalties will be paid to the Auckland District Health Board, the inventor and NZHIH.

The licensing deal will bring benefits for around 7,000 New Zealanders who live with Hepatitis B, as well as others in China and around the globe.

Hepatitis B’s genotype C is more commonly found in the Māori population than European, so it is expected to have a significant impact here.

Without China’s economies of scale, it is likely that the cost of developing the diagnostic kits in New Zealand would have prevented the project from being developed.

“Commercialisation of innovations is a complex process and is outside the experience of most people wishing to develop a novel idea,” Bill says.

“The stages in this process that I could not have completed without substantial professional guidance included organising someone with the appropriate patent-writing expertise, navigating the international patent registration process, responding to patent reviews, writing a realistic business plan, identifying appropriate local government and private funding opportunities, developing overseas contacts for carrying out clinical trials and licensing of the final product to an overseas business. NZHIH and Wellington UniVentures appointed experienced staff who successfully dealt with all these issues. There is no way I could have done this myself,” he says.