The Pennsylvania-based company Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. is beginning clinical trials on a new therapeutic vaccine to help treat hepatitis C, which takes a new approach to treating the virus.

The vaccine uses the body's natural defenses to infection to help patients better fight of hepatitis C. As Inovio Chief Medicial Officer Mark L. Bagarazzi explains, the vaccine gives the body's immune system a boost to help it fight the hepatitis virus.

"What we hope it can do is to basically generate an immune response," Bagarazzi said.  "The particular application we are talking about here is people who already have hepatitis C. So they have the virus, they've been infected — they may have been infected a short time, or a long time — but this is basically to boost the body's ability to identify and generate an effective immune response to remove the virus from the body."

Hep C is a liver disease that can have lifelong effects. The new vaccine, being developed by Inovio, will help treat patients for whom treatment with anti-viral drugs is not enough. Bagarazzi hopes that the company's therapeutic vaccine will increase the success of hepatitis C treatments.

"The vaccine could reduce the number of patients who don't benefit from the current drugs, so it could improve the effects of the current drugs and thereby decreasing the number of patients who don't respond...and that would be a significant plus," he said.