New Chinese herbal medicine has significant potential in treating hepatitis C

April 13, 2014

Data from a late-breaking abstract presented at the International Liver CongressTM 2014 identifies a new compound, SBEL1, that has the ability to inhibit hepatitis C virus (HCV) activity in cells at several points in the virus’ lifecycle.[i]

SBEL1 is a compound isolated from Chinese herbal medicines that was found to inhibit HCV activity by approximately 90%. SBEL1 is extracted from a herb found in certain regions of Taiwan and Southern China. In Chinese medicine, it is used to treat sore throats and inflammations. The function of SBEL1 within the plant is unknown and its role and origins are currently being investigated.

Scientists pre-treated human liver cells in vitro with SBEL1 prior to HCV infection and found that SBEL1 pre-treated cells contained 23 percent less HCV protein than the control, suggesting that SBEL1 blocks virus entry. The liver cells transfected with an HCV internal ribosome entry site (IRES)-driven luciferase reporter that were treated with SBEL1 reduced reporter activity by 50% compared to control. This suggests that that SBEL1 inhibits IRES-mediated translation, a critical process for viral protein production.

In addition, the HCV ribonucleic acid (RNA) levels were significantly reduced by 78 percent in HCV infected cells treated with SBEL1 compared to the control group. This demonstrates that SBEL1 may also affect the viral RNA replication process.

Prof. Markus Peck-Radosavljevic, Secretary-General of the European Association for the Study of the Liver and Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Vienna, Austria, commented: “People infected with hepatitis C are at risk of developing severe liver damage including liver cancer and cirrhosis. In the past, less than 20 percent of all HCV patients were treated because the available treatments were unsuitable due to poor efficacy and high toxicity. Recent advances means that we can now virtually cure HCV without unpleasant side effects. However, the different virus genotypes coupled with the complexity of the disease means there is still a major unmet need to improve options for all populations.”

Professor Peck-Radosavljevic continued: “SBEL1 has demonstrated significant inhibition of HCV at multiple stages of the viral lifecycle, which is an exciting discovery because it allows us to gain a deeper understanding of the virus and its interactions with other compounds. Ultimately this adds to our library of knowledge that may bring us closer to improving future treatment outcomes.”

HCV invades cells in the body by binding to specific receptors on the cell, enabling the virus to enter it.2 Once inside, HCV hijacks functions of the cell known as transcription, translation and replication, which enables HCV to make copies of its viral genome and proteins, allowing the virus to spread to other sites of the body.2 When HCV enters the host cell, it releases viral (+)RNA that is transcribed by viral RNA replicase into viral (-)RNA, which can be used as a template for viral genome replication to produce more (+) RNA or for viral protein synthesis. Once the viral RNA is transcribed, HCV initiates a process known as IRES-mediated translation, which allows the viral RNA to be translated into proteins by bypassing certain protein translation checkpoints that would normally be required by the host cell to start protein translation.[ii],[iii] Viral RNA is the genetic material that gives HCV its particular characteristics. This process enables the virus to take advantage of the host cell’s protein translation machinery for its own purposes.

There are an estimated 150 million to 200 million people living with chronic HCV and more than 350,000 people die annually from HCV-related diseases.[iv] HCV is transmitted through blood contact between an infected individual and someone who is not infected. This can occur through needlestick injuries or sharing of equipment used to inject drugs.

Disclaimer: the data referenced in this release is based on the submitted abstract. More recent data may be presented at the International Liver Congress™ 2014.

[i] C.W Lin et al. Multiple Effects Of Chinese Herbal Medicine SBEL1 On Hepatitis C Virus Life Cycle. Abstract presented at the International Liver Congress™ 2014

[ii] Scheel, T.K.H. and Charles M Rice, C.M. Understanding the hepatitis C virus life cycle paves the way for highly effective therapies. Nature Medicine, 2013; 19: 837-849

[iii] Komar, A.A. and Hatzoglou. Cellular IRES-mediated translation. Cell cycle, 2011; 10 (2): 229-240

[iv] European Comission. Horizon 2020. Breaking the Hepatitis C lifecycle. February 2014. Available at Accessed 19.03.14.

[v] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public. 2014. Available at Accessed 19.03.14.

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6 Responses to New Chinese herbal medicine has significant potential in treating hepatitis C

  1. David Cohen April 19, 2014 at 9:16 am #

    This study says SBEL1 works in vitro. It may or may not work in vivo. The in vitro studies use cell cultures infected with hepatitis C. Most natural antivirals would not work only against certain strains; they would be more or less pangenotypic. They could certainly work better on certain genotypes.

    It’s painting with an absurdly broad brush to say that because some Chinese medicine may contain rhino horn, no plant used in Chinese medicine should be studied to treat any serious disease. I’m not sure that deserves much of a response.

    Experimenting with herbs which are hepatotoxic could worsen the condition. Most herbs are not hepatotoxic. Some are hepatoprotective. This one may be antiviral. Taking herbs which are not toxic is unlikely to worsen the condition. It’s as simple as that.

    Medicine prescribed by a physician for hepatitis C is either toxic and/or outrageously unaffordable. The for-profit medical establishment fails to investigate alternative medical treatments predominantly because they are unpatentable and have little potential for windfall profitability. Its shills actively derogate promising alternative medical treatments because they may cut into their profiteering. Note that they tend to tolerate treatments such as homeopathy, faith healing, acupuncture, chiropractic, etc. from which they perceive no such threat.

  2. Katie S. Mall April 19, 2014 at 8:29 am #

    Hannah’s points are completely relevant and highlight key problems. Not much is known about the Chinese herbal medicine and whether it can be considered legal by medical authorities. Specification is needed and actual evidence supporting the statistics mention should be included to enhance understanding and confirm the claims. As an example the posting claims that SBEL 1 inhibits HCV activity by approximately 90%. How was this evidence acquired, was it obtained from a laboratory experiment on cells obtained from a clinical trial? How many different samples were examined of pre-treated human liver cells?

    Secondly, while Hannah mentions that conventional medicine is essential, I feel that by testing alternative medicine, this could be a starting point in finding cures for various strains. Conventionality may not necessarily be the solution to the problem that is now faced. Therefore, I feel that further extensive testing and research is needed to be done on SBEL 1 and it should not be used on patients until it has been correctly tested and approved.
    The identification of the origin and role of SBEL 1 would be beneficial as it would allow scientists to know which plants would be needed and what specific part of the plant it can be extracted from. It may even help aid other research concerning cures.

    Another key point is why SBEL 1 was initially chosen despite if it is used for sore throats and inflammations as mentioned. There is no guidance as to what other compounds were perhaps tested before discovering that SBEL 1 was more effective. One also wonders what research lead scientists to decide on SBEL 1.
    With this in mind the posting mentions the statistic that 150 to 200 million people are living with chronic Hepatitis C. The reality of the situation reveals that much is needed to be done to help reduce the rate of incidence and prevalence. It is therefore, important that research is continuously done. The discovery of SBEL 1 provides much hope for the advancement in finding a cure that will not have as many side effects as current treatments. Current treatments are patient specific according to the World Health Organisation. Treatment plans are based on results from screenings and test results of each patient.

    While this seems ideal, it is hard to imagine that this is possible in underprivileged areas where resources are limited, general antiviral medication are often prescribed (World Health Organisation, 2014)1. In South Africa, my place of origin and residence, genotype 5 is reportedly the most common strain of Hepatitis C (Lancet Laboratories, 2010)2 the posting does not mention which strain SBEL 1 will help as Hannah has mentioned. Despite this I feel that much is needed to be done in finding a cure as according to statistics, between 70-80% of people infected with HCV, will become chronically infected (Lancet Laboratories, 2010) and most patients contract Hepatitis C with HIV. Hepatitis C usually develops as a result of a weaker immune system in HIV patients. It is believed that patients were co-infected with the two viruses by contaminated needles or from contact with bodily fluid. A Hepatitis C cure may not seem as crucial as an HIV cure, but it has the ability to cause liver cancer and cirrhosis as mentioned in the posting, and therefore I feel should have equal importance. With this in mind perhaps SBEL 1 will hold much promise for future treatment of Hepatitis C that is needed worldwide as it demonstrates significant inhibition of the viral cycle as mentioned in the posting, however much research is needed to be done.

    1 – World Health Organisation. 2014. Hepatitis C [Online]. Available: [Cited 19 April 2014]

    2 – Lancet Laboratories. 2010. Hepatitis C Diagnosis [Online]. Available: [Cited 19 April 2014]

  3. Dave April 16, 2014 at 8:39 am #

    My guess is that SBEL1 stands for Standardized Bark Extract Lignan 1 from magnolia, either honokiol or magnolol.

    Why the coy disguises about just what molecule from just which plant they’re talking about? Do we really need spoiler-free press releases on abstracts?

  4. jp arnolds April 14, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    «M Henri Day» By suggesting that hanna’s various opinions reflect that she has some sort of hatred of things Chinese is equivalent to me concluding that you are a sexist sh*thead.
    While i disagree with some factors of his/her’s, -actually, I am pretty damn sure ”hanna” is a girl’s name- I maintain the view that she holds a few valid points. For example, the fact that this medicine may only work for a single strain of the virus.
    Perhaps, M Henri Day you, should challenge your views a little instead of having a strong, subjective, chino-phillic stance… ;)

  5. M Henri Day April 14, 2014 at 9:04 am #

    Signature «hannah» seems far more concerned with denigrating Chinese medicine than with the possible therapeutic advantages that this compound may have to offer patients affected with Hepatitis C. Given the need that exists for better therapies to counteract this widespread and very serious disease, perhaps «hanna», despite her/his evident dislike of things Chinese, might be advised to hold her/his fire until such time as more is known about the compound and its mechanism of action….


  6. hannah April 13, 2014 at 4:05 am #

    The study yields little evidence on how the SBEL1 compound is effective in treating hepatitis C. In addition, the fact that key aspects concerning the plant and its functions are not yet known causes me to be skeptical about the use of SBEL1 in treating the HCV.

    Another reason to refrain from pursuing the use of this compound is that Chinese medicine is known for including illegitimate animal products in their mixtures such as rhino horn. The use of SBEL1 in Chinese medicine may be contaminated with such products and the use of it would support the illegal rhino horn trade.

    Medicine administered by a physician can cure hepatitis C so it is wise to stick to this method. Furthermore, a disease as serious as hepatitis C should be treated solely with conventional medical methods. Experimenting with alternative medicine in such a case could worsen the condition leading to the patient needing a liver transplant.

    The study suggests that SBEL1 inhibits the activity of a strain of HCV. However it may prove ineffective in treating other strains of the virus.

    The compound might be effective in relieving minor symptoms such as a strep throat but a condition such as hepatitis C should be left in the hands of medical professionals who use more conventional methods.

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