Close-up medical syringe with a vaccine - featured image around the new Epstein-Barr virus vaccine trial hailed a success so far

New Epstein-Barr virus vaccine trial hailed a success so far

A new vaccine against the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) has been developed which has induced a durable immune response in mice.

EBV is now known to be a trigger for multiple sclerosis (MS), as well as some cancers. It is a member of the herpes virus family. It is carried by around 95 percent of the population. Most of us are unaware of the virus lying dormant in our bodies. Infection usually occurs in early childhood causing very mild symptoms.

However, in some people EBV can lead to severe illness. Those who catch the virus later in life as teens or young adults can develop infectious mononucleosis, or glandular fever, which is a major risk factor for a number of diseases and cancers.

A landmark study published last year established that EBV is likely the leading cause of MS.

Preventing EBV-associated infectious mononucleosis could potentially lead to the prevention of MS in the future, but despite worldwide research efforts there is still no vaccine available.

The new QIMR Berghofer vaccine candidate potentially offers a breakthrough approach that combines two powerful arms of the immune system to target the virus in both acute and latent infection.

Although further work is needed, the vaccine is potentially complementary to ATA188, a cell-based therapy that targets the root cause of multiple sclerosis and is currently in advanced Phase 2 clinical development by Atara Biotherapeutics.

QIMR Berghofer’s Professor Rajiv Khanna AO, who led the development of the vaccine and is also collaborating with Atara on ATA188, said the study shows the vaccine could provide effective, long-term protection against EBV.

“Other vaccine efforts have focused on inducing neutralising antibodies against the virus which blocks infection of immune B cells during primary acute infection.

“But EBV in its latent state hides inside B cells, turning them into tiny virus factories ready to divide and spread whenever our immune defences are down. It is our killer T cells that detect and control these infected B cells.

“Our vaccine formulation induces that killer T cell immune response as well as the neutralising antibody immune response.

“We think that in susceptible individuals, EBV-infected B cells travel to the brain and cause inflammation and damage. If we can prevent this at an early stage of infection then the infected B cells can’t go on to cause the development of secondary disease like MS,” Professor Khanna said.