A new vaccine that can protect celiac sufferers against gluten exposure could be closer than you think. NexVax2, a vaccine created by the Boston-based biotech company ImmusanT, trains the body to stop reacting to gluten which could allow celiac patients to eat a normal diet.
We have been patiently following the progress of NexVax2, and are super excited to report that the vaccine was well tolerated by patients in phase 1 studies, according to the data presented by ImmusanT at the recent Disease Week Conference in San Diego.
"In the field of autoimmune diseases, antigen-specific immunotherapy is considered the holy grail," explained chief scientific officer of ImmusanT, Robert P. Anderson. Anderson is hoping that the NexVax2 formulation will make a gluten-free diet completely unnecessary for those who suffer from celiac.
HOW IT WORKS
NexVax2 works by reprogramming the body's immune system so that it doesn't attack the gut in response to gluten ingestion. The vaccine contains tiny fragments of proteins that are responsible for triggering the immune system's overreaction during the digestive process. Because the fragments are so small, the immune system does not launch an attack and gradually learns to accept the proteins as harmless.
During a series of subsequent vaccines, the amount of protein introduced into the body is gradually increased. This allows the immune system to slowly get used to higher levels of gluten entering the body so that, when it is reintroduced into the diet, the immune system doesn't launch an attack.
ImmusanT is a Boston-based biotechnology company dedicated to helping celiac sufferers by making a gluten-free diet a thing of the past.
ImmusanT scientists developed this vaccine after they successfully identified which of the 3,000 protein fragments that make up gluten were causing damage to the body. They were able to narrow it down to three, which appeared to account for almost all cases of celiac disease. These three protein fragments were used to develop the vaccine.
ImmusanT researchers aim to use this same technology to expand their development into therapies for other autoimmune conditions, such as Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
THE NITTY GRITTY
Now trials are underway in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, involving over 100 patients, to see if NexVax2 could be the world's first "cure" for celiac disease.
A spokesman for ImmusanT said, "we hope that NexVax2 dramatically reduces the body's immune response to gluten so that patients can resume a normal diet and return to good health."
The company hopes to have it ready within the next three to four years, although that could be fairly ambitious. We are patiently waiting!
What sets NexVax2 from its competitors, explains CEO Leslie Williams, is that with NexVax2, "celiac patients one day might be able to eat all of the gluten they want." This is a big difference from most of the other products in development, which essentially combat accidental gluten ingestion, and still require following a strict gluten-free diet.
It's so exciting to see NexVax2 progress through the trial stages and move closer and closer to hitting the market, and will continue to bring you news and updates as we get them!
To learn more about the science of Celiac, we recommend the book Mayo Clinic Going Gluten Free: Essential Guide to Managing Celiac Disease and Related Conditions. It's a great read and very helpful for further understanding Celiac Disease.