New Vaccine Shows Promise for Celiac Patients

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

More than 2 million Americans are living with celiac disease. The condition occurs when the immune system reacts to the ingestion of the protein gluten. Left untreated, CD can cause permanent damage in the GI tract. So developing new treatments to add to a gluten-free diet can be essential in providing good outcomes for celiac patients.

One promising treatment in development is a vaccine produced by biotech firm ImmusanT called Nexvax2. The drug is currently undergoing phase two clinical trials with the most promising aspect being its potential to modify the disease process itself. In fact, it’s the only therapy of its type being developed.** So, how does Nexvax2 work?**

The treatment works differently than vaccines that most people are used to hearing about and involves our genetics. Most people with CD have a gene called HLA-DQ2. When gluten is ingested it combines with the HLA-DQ2 and T-cells are activated to fight off the “foreign invader.” It’s this immune response that causes damage in the GI tract of people with CD. Nexvax2 may actually reprogram the T cells so they won’t mount an attack when gluten is present.

Without the immune response to gluten the GI tract should calm down, eventually heal and patients may be able to resume a diet that contains gluten. Booster shots of the Nexvax2 injections may be needed periodically.

Who can benefit from the Nexvax2 vaccine?Right now the vaccine is undergoing phase 2 clinical trials so it is not available on the market. Part of the process is to establish the safety and tolerability of the vaccine. Celiac patients will also have to have the HLA-DQ2 gene in order to benefit from this therapy. About 95 percent of CD patients express this gene. For the remaining 5 percent this therapy will not be effective.

Once the vaccine does hit the market, take time to talk with your gastroenterologist about all of the risks vs. benefits of the therapy in relation to your own health. Only your physician can determine what treatments will be right for you.

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Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition. She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years. Jennifer also serves the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).