There’s a celiac disease vaccine called Nexvax2 in the works. It’s meant to allow celiacs to eat gluten without getting sick and without any damage to your gut.
Wouldn’t that be amazing?!? Omg, to have the freedom to eat without fear and tons of planning…it would like a second lease on life!
Approximately 1% of people in the United States have celiac disease and the only medical treatment is to avoid gluten. And as we celiacs well know, that’s a huge lifestyle change (aka, a huge pain in the butt and a lot of drama).
HOW DOES NEXVAX2 VACCINE WORK?
The celiac disease Nexvax2 vaccine changes the response your T cells have when you eat gluten.
T cells are a type of white blood cell that play a huge role in your immune system function. The “T” represents “thymus” which is the organ where these cells mature (a lymph organ in front of your heart and behind your sternum).
Think of T cells as soldiers whose job is to protect your health. They essentially scan your body for invaders and kill threats like cancer cells, viruses, and bacteria.
When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, your T cells wrongly attack your small intestine, causing damage to the villi. This in turn causes a whole host of subsequent health problems.
The Nexvax2 vaccine makes your T cells unresponsive to gluten. ImmusanT, the privately held biotechnology company developing this vaccine, has proprietary medical technology that makes this possible.
Per their website, this technology is “based on the same principles as ‘traditional’ desensitization therapy for allergic conditions that restore long-term tolerance to allergens.”
So far, in laboratory tests, it’s been successful in not only treating celiac disease, but also preventing it.
WHAT’S THE CATCH?
The first drawback is that it will only work in 80-90% of celiacs. You have to carry the immune recognition gene (HLA-DQ2.5) for it to be effective.
A second consideration is that booster shots (potentially as often as once a week) may be required. If you’re needle averse, this could be a deterrent. It also sounds like it may be expensive.
A third point to contemplate is the potential impact to your immune health. In a nutshell, Nexvax2 is a very specific immunosuppressant.
While the vaccine only represses the part of the immune system involved in celiac disease, it could have unanticipated impacts. However, immunotherapy often has fewer side effects than medication.
A fourth piece of information to weigh is how the vaccine works. Since it’s essentially allergen immunotherapy or desensitization, it involves exposing you to more and more gluten in an attempt to restore gluten tolerance.
The question that causes me to ask is, “What kind of damage does that cause to your small intestine?” Or if it’s somehow safe, “How is the vaccine not causing damage?”
Inaugural trials caused celiacs to vomit. As a result, the amount of gluten in the first vaccine was lowered. It was then slowly increased until participants received a dose of gluten equal to about two loaves of bread.
Nexvax2 is entering the phase 2 stage of development. There is a six month study currently planned that will consist of 150 celiacs from several countries.
What does that mean in terms of timeline?
- There were years of preclinical trials (Nexvax2 was first announced in 2012)
- Five phase 1 trials have concluded
- Phase 2 trials are beginning (with the first trial scheduled for six months)
- Phase 3 trials must be complete for the FDA to consider approving the vaccine.
So the vaccine is still years away from being available to the public.
It’s very exciting to hope that I might be able to live more freely in the future. That said, I think there are a number of questions that ImmusanT will have to answer before I would consider trying their Nexvax2 vaccine.
What about the 10-20% of people without the immune recognition gene? How much will it cost? What’s the impact to my immune system? What’s the impact to my overall health? What are other known side effects? How does exposing celiacs to huge amounts of gluten not cause huge amounts of intestinal damage?
Another piece of exciting information is that there are currently over a dozen potential treatments for celiac disease in development. Other methods consist of enzymatically dissolving gluten, stopping the absorption of gluten, and manipulating the body’s response to gluten.