Enhanced vaccine aims to eliminate risks of allergic reactions to European honey bee stings
An advanced treatment which aims to speed-up the resistance to bee sting allergies has had a successful human trial in South Australia, with the vaccine also set to be tested for severe reactions to peanuts.
The trial by Flinders University and the Royal Adelaide Hospital included 27 adults who had a history of allergic reactions to European honey bee stings.
For the clinical trial, a sugar-based compound called an adjuvant — a substance which triggers a stronger immune response — was added to the vaccine, designed to help the body neutralise bee venom faster.
Professor Nikolai Petrovsky said it was the first time an adjuvant was shown to assist an allergy vaccine and it had now been given to over 1,000 individuals across a range of different vaccines.
The research has been published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
“The idea behind this turbocharged allergy vaccine is essentially to drive the antibody response to the bee venom so it goes up much earlier,” Professor Petrovsky said.
“So, you hopefully will get protected much earlier in the course of the therapy.”
Allergic reactions to bee stings include anaphylaxis, vomiting and loss of consciousness.
Mr Petrovsky said current treatments for the allergy also meant regular vaccine shots — possibly for life.
“People have to come into the hospital or the allergy clinic at least on a monthly basis,” he said.
“That’s very intrusive in terms of getting time off work.
“If we can stretch that out even to say three-monthly or six-monthly that would have a dramatic impact on their ability to pursue the vaccine as an option.”
Current treatment is ‘lengthy and cumbersome’
Professor Petrovsky said the adjuvant was also effective when applied to vaccines for hepatitis B and influenza and was also being tested for other uses.
“We’re developing one for bee sting. We’re developing one for jack jumper ant, we’re also doing work on peanut allergy,” Mr Petrovsky said.
An investigator in the trial Dr Anthony Smith, said while commercial bee venom therapy was available, it was “lengthy and cumbersome”.
He said it required patients to have over 50 injections over a three-year period to build-up their immune system.
“I hope this enhanced bee venom therapy brings about faster, but longer-lasting protection to bee stings for allergic individuals,” Dr Smith said.
The adjuvant was developed in collaboration with the Australian biotechnology company Vaxine.
Professor Petrovsky said he hoped the new vaccine would be available to consumers within the next three-to-five years.
‘We want to know if this works in practice’
Professor Michael Gold, a senior consultant for the allergy and immunology department at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, said this particular trial was an example of researchers using a different adjuvant than the conventional one used to stimulate the immune system.
“Traditionally what has been used for decades is an aluminium-based compound called an adjuvant,” he told the ABC.
“So, what’s particular about this body of work, which includes the bee venom, is the use of this particular sugar or carbohydrate as an adjuvant … so that’s the novel aspect of it.”
He said while the study looked to be something worthwhile, it needed a whole extra body of work to see if it could be used in practice.
“If you’re going to take a treatment that is better than the conventional one, you have to show some superiority in terms of safety or in terms of how effective it is,” he said.
“What this study is showing, it’s a very early study, they tend to be better than the conventional one.
“This is only evidence based on testing, ultimately with any vaccine or immunotherapy, we want to know whether this works in practice.
“People are looking for new adjuvants that actually stimulate the immune system in a better way and that are generally better to use.”