Celiac Disease Vaccine In Clinical Trials Would Let People Eat Gluten Again

For years, people with celiac disease have lived with the knowledge that there’s no cure for this autoimmune condition, and the only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet. Now, there’s a good reason for people with celiac disease to hope for both a cure and the ability to eat gluten safely again.

ImmusanT, the makers of Nexvax2, announced they’ve started phase-two clinical trials for the vaccine, which is designed to protect people with celiac disease from inadvertent gluten exposure and, ultimately, could “allow patients to return to an unrestricted diet,” ImmusanT CEO Leslie Williams said in a release about the clinical trials.

Here’s what you need to know:

The first patient in the trial received a dose of the vaccine in September. Doctors hope to find a total of 150 participants, from the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, to test Nexvax2.

vaccine photo
Getty Images | David Greedy

Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disease. If a celiac sufferer accidentally eats wheat, rye or barley, or foods that are made from those grains, such as soy sauce or beer, their immune system jumps into overdrive, resulting in an attack on the villi of the small intestines.

Even trace amounts of gluten can cause the immune response and the resulting damage to the villi. For celiac sufferers, this can lead to a host of other health problems, including malnourishment (damaged villi cannot absorb nutrients), infertility, anemia, osteoporosis, diabetes and even some cancers.

Nexvax2 is designed specifically for celiac patients who have the HLA-DQ2.5 genetic form of the disease, which accounts for 90 percent of people with celiac, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

How The Celiac Vaccine Works

The vaccine isn’t quite like the one your kids can get for chicken pox, which is designed to prevent them from ever having the disease. Nexvax2 is a “therapeutic” vaccine, which means that it’s designed to address an immune response that’s already happening in the bodies of those with celiac disease, Beyond Celiac explains.

The vaccine is administered slowly, in doses, as it “reprograms the T-cells responsible for celiac disease to stop triggering a pro-inflammatory response,” according to the release. In the trial, doctors will treat patients over the course of 16 weeks, gradually increasing the body’s ability to handle gluten proteins in the gut without the damaging immune response.

pasta photo
Getty Images | Roberto Serra/Iguana Press

Researchers and health professionals think that around 1 percent of the global population has celiac disease, though many believe it’s underdiagnosed. Organizations such as Beyond Celiac are encouraging people to seek out a diagnosis, which can be done via a blood test.

The organization also encourages patients to differentiate a celiac diagnosis from a wheat allergy or other issues since patients with celiac disease face such serious health issues and are required to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet.

Though this vaccine is exciting for those with celiac disease, researchers are testing many different therapies right now. The Celiac Disease Foundation maintains a list of trials on its Future Therapies page, as does Beyond Celiac. The foundation also has a portal for joining a research registry, so you can help scientists do their work. For more specifics on the Nexvax2 clinical trial, go to clinicaltrials.gov and search using the number NCT03644069.