Melbourne scientists were the first to crack the code on a possible coeliac treatment that will allow those with coeliac disease to eat gluten.
The new vaccine for coeliacs, called Nexvax2, proved successful in initial trials and is now in its second phase of testing. In 2011 the vaccine was shown to be safe and well-tolerated in patients, and it’s now rolling out into international trials.
The world-first vaccine works by reprogramming the immune response to ingesting gluten. Currently, the only option coeliacs have is to eat a completely gluten-free diet, so needless to say the prospect of a treatment is likely to be well-received by coeliacs worldwide.
The vaccine was developed at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and is being tested at the Royal Melbourne Hospital Clinical Trials Centre. Hopefully, it will allow the 160,000 coeliac sufferers in Australia, and many more around the world, to understand the pure joy of a freshly baked croissant.
Coeliac Australia says approximately one in 70 Australians suffer from coeliac disease, with many cases going undiagnosed. Symptoms can include upset stomach, chronic fatigue and deficiencies in iron and other essential nutrients.
After Melbourne, the vaccine trial will be rolled out across Australia with Adelaide, Perth, Mackay, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast also participating in clinical trials.
“Patients with coeliac disease are currently being encouraged to participate in the trials,” said Dr Jason Tye-Din, head of coeliac research and gastroenterologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, in conversation with The Age.
The vaccine will target patients with the HLA-DQ2 genetic form of coeliac disease, who make up about 90 per cent of the coeliac population.
“The results from national and international Phase 1 trials showed that the therapy was safe and well tolerated even at the highest doses used, and also showed an intended biological effect on the immune system in patients with coeliac disease,” Dr Tye-Din said.
Despite international trials starting, he highlighted Australia is “still playing a pivotal role” in bringing this vaccine to the world.
“A successful therapy that can restore normal gluten tolerance would revolutionise coeliac disease management.”
The treatment would certainly make a huge change to people living with coeliac disease, making travel and restaurant meals – and probably their grocery bill – much easier to handle.
Trials are still underway, so while coeliacs aren’t cracking the beers and frolicking in the wheat fields just yet, there’s certainly a big, gluten-scented hope on the horizon.