It is a new approach that gives hope: A first vaccine against the Epstein-Barr virus is currently undergoing clinical testing in the USA. The vaccine is intended to protect against glandular fever, but also against serious late effects of the virus such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

The vaccine consists of a protein nanoparticle that carries a surface protein of the virus. The first phase of the clinical study is now to examine the tolerability and safety of the vaccine.

Around 95 percent of people carry the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) – usually since early childhood and completely unnoticed. However, if you only become infected as a teenager or adult, the virus can trigger glandular fever.

In addition, the pathogen, which belongs to the herpes viruses, is suspected of causing lymph gland cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome and various autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and lupus erythematosus. A participation of EBV is also being discussed for Long Covid.

So far there is no effective therapy and no vaccine against EBV infection.

But that should change now. A team led by Jessica Durkee-Shock from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the USA has developed a vaccine against EBV, which is now being tested on human subjects in a phase 1 clinical trial for the first time. It is only the second clinical study of an EBV vaccine in the last 20 years, as the researchers report.

The aim of the vaccine is, on the one hand, to prevent infection with the Epstein-Barr virus in people who have not yet had contact with the pathogen. Because a large part of the population already carries the latent virus, the vaccine should also help against the late effects of the infection by preventing the virus from multiplying in the body.

“A vaccine that can prevent or attenuate Epstein-Barr virus infection could reduce the incidence of glandular fever and potentially reduce the incidence of cancer and autoimmune diseases,” said Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID.

The central component of the EBV vaccine is one of the surface proteins of the virus, the so-called EBV glycoprotein gp350. This viral protein, which has sugar deposits, covers the surface of the pathogen, but is also released by infected cells in the human body.

Studies show that this viral protein is one of the main hallmarks of neutralizing antibodies produced by the human immune system when infected.

In order to stabilize the viral protein and be able to use it as a vaccine, the research team used an endogenous protein complex as a carrier: ferritin. This disc-shaped protein, made up of around 200 amino acids, serves as a store of iron in the body by trapping iron in its core.

In the vaccine, the scientists have adapted the ferritin complex so that it now presents the viral protein gp350 on its surface. The third vaccine component is an adjuvant intended to enhance the immune-activating effect.

In the phase 1 clinical study, the tolerability and safety of the new vaccine candidate will first be checked. For this purpose, 40 healthy test persons receive a total of three injections of 50 micrograms each of the vaccine in the upper arm.

The second and third doses follow 30 and 180 days after the primary vaccination. Half of the subjects are already infected with EBV, the other half are not.

The participants in the vaccination study will then be medically examined again and again over a period of one and a half to two and a half years in order to monitor them for side effects and possible consequences of vaccination. The entire phase 1 study is designed to last four years, as reported by the NIAID.

Quelle: NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

This article was written by Nadja Podbregar

The original of this article “95 percent carry the Epstein-Barr virus – now a vaccine study gives hope” comes from scinexx.


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