Name: Jean-Michel Pawlotsky
Institution: Henri Mondor University Hospital, University of Paris-Est and INSERM U955
Location: Créteil, France
Website/blog: almost ready to launch!
Twitter (if applicable): @JMPawlotsky
Could you tell me a little bit about your research and what it entails?
I started my academic career soon after the discovery of hepatitis C virus, and have spent almost 30 years of my life doing research on hepatitis viruses, including clinical and epidemiological research at the beginning (there was a huge need to describe the new entity “hepatitis C” soon after the virus discovery). I also did a lot of research on diagnostic tools and virological methods and published extensively on these and how to use them for optimal patient care and management. This is still an important focus of interest of my lab and the National Reference Center for Viral Hepatitis B, C and D in the lab. In parallel I created a translational research lab where we conducted bench research on two main topics. The first one was the pathophysiology of antiviral therapy (explaining the modes of action of interferon and ribavirin in hepatitis C, nucleoside/nucleotide analogues in hepatitis B, etc) and understanding the reasons for success or failure, the role of viral resistance and its mechanisms. A substantial number of publications emerged on this topic too, which naturally brought me to heavily invest into new HCV drug developments and actively participate in the advent of HCV cure. Very exciting times…
The second topic of my bench research was the pathophysiology of HCV-associated liver disease and my group published on the molecular mechanisms underlying metabolic perturbations associated with hepatitis C virus infection (impaired lipid metabolism, insulin resistance and diabetes), as well as on the mechanisms underlying the oncogenic potential of HCV and the pathophysiology of hepatocellular carcinoma. Our research now moves into two directions: using all our knowledge, expertise and ideas originally from the HCV field to develop new broad-spectrum antiviral approaches for other RNA viruses of great medical importance, and unraveling the role of the local immune/inflammatory response in the emergence and progression of hepatocellular carcinoma in order to find new therapeutic and preventive approaches against this poor-prognosis cancer.
How did you come to be interested in viral hepatitis?
Well, when I arrived at the place where I still work, as a resident in Hepatology and Gastroenterology in 1990, my boss told me: “there is a new virus that has been discovered last year. It is probably interesting…”. And it happened…
What do you see as the biggest accomplishment in your field in the past few years?
Very simply, the hepatitis C cure. When I started, we cured 6% of patients with one year of interferon injections with a huge amount of horrible side effects. Now, we cure 99% of patients in 12 weeks with no side effects at all. Who says better?
What do you see as the main challenges for research in your field in the coming years?
Getting out of it I guess… Using the outstanding experience, knowledge, models, ideas we all acquired through this unique trip through hepatitis C discovery to cure to accelerate research in other fields of virology and hepatology and write many other unique stories.
What personal career achievement are you most proud of? Why?
Well, there are two things I am extremely proud of. One is having been a very influential actor of HCV drug development, with the outstanding results we see now, that’s something quite unique in a medical and scientific career. Another pride is to have run EASL, the European Association for the Study of the Liver, for 4 years and made it what it is now, a leading, highly influential, wealthy and well-managed organization. But definitely, what I am most proud of is to have assembled around me a group of fantastic, creative, smart, young people who teach me every day, who I enjoy working with, who challenge me continuously, and who make me want anything but retire far from them one day. That’s a true blessing.