For a long time, patients with celiac disease have had to live cautiously. Always having to carefully vet what they eat or risk gluten contamination. Celiac disease is a digestive disorder that causes an immune response in the small intestine when someone eats food containing gluten.
The immune reaction damages the inner lining of the small intestine over time, affecting your ability to absorb nutrients properly. Patients with celiac disease exhibit symptoms such as vomiting, bloating and diarrhea when they consume food with gluten.
It is estimated that close to 1% of the world population suffers from celiac disease. There is currently no known vaccine for celiac disease. However, a team of researchers from ImmusanT Inc. could be on the verge of providing much-needed relief to people who have celiac disease. A majority of people outside the field of gastroenterology were oblivious of the research until the results of Phase1 trials were published.
What’s the Celiac Disease Vaccine?
The US-based pharmaceutical giant is reported to be currently conducting phase 2 trials of their ground-breaking drug, Nexvax2. Although it might take a while before the revolutionary drug is available at a pharmacy near you, the progress made is cause for celebration.
The Theoretical Working Principle of The Vaccine
Nexvax2 is designed to restore the body’s ability to tolerate gluten, a protein found in whole grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. On paper, the drug is supposed to work by introducing peptides into the body. Continued exposure to peptides is expected to help modify the immune cells and make them gluten tolerant like that of an average person. Nexvxa2 is supposed to achieve this by inactivating the T-cells that are reactive to gluten. According to ImmunsanT, phase 1 trials showed that the drug has no undesired effects on the immunity of the individual and hence it’s safe.
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Phase 2 trials are expected to last for over 26 weeks and will be conducted on some 146 volunteers from the U.S, Australia and New Zealand. For you to participate in the trial, you must have been following a strict gluten-free diet for a minimum of 12 consecutive weeks. The participants will receive an injection of the test drug twice a week for 16 weeks. This will be followed by a 4-week observation period. The trials began in August 2018 and are expected to end in September 2019. ImmusanT is still recruiting more participants, and you can visit their website for more details.
Unfortunately, if the drug works, it will only be useful for patients with HLA-DQ2 form of celiac disease. HLA-DQ2 accounts for 90% of all celiac disease cases. Of the remaining 10%, half of them have HLA-DQ8 genetic structure of the disease. Although Dexvax2 only targets HLA-DQ2, the company’s Chief Scientific Officer informed the public that ImmusanT is also working on a vaccine for those with HLA-DQ8. He said this at the Celiac Conference held in Columbia University in March 2018.
Freedom to Eat Normally
As liberating as the thought a vaccine for celiac disease may be, you will have to wait patiently until the end of 2019 to know the full results of Phase2 trials. If the results are positive, Phase 3 trials will have to be conducted. At the end of the on-going clinical trials, it is expected that the results will establish how long the vaccine will protect a celiac patient and from how much gluten intake.
Assuming the drug passes all the clinical trials, it could still take a few years before the FDA approves it. Until then, the only viable option is eliminating gluten from your diet.