Boost for anti-allergy vaccine


May 16, 2007

A weekly vaccine against a common trigger for allergy attacks has worked well in early tests, say its makers.

Patients with runny noses and sneezing caused by exposure to the house dust mite were reported to be up to 100 times more resistant after jabs.

Cytos Biotechnology also claims that the jab has proved effective in asthma and hay fever sufferers.

Allergy UK welcomed the study results - but said that further research was needed to prove its effectiveness.

An estimated five million people in the UK suffer from asthma, with the house dust mite, or its faeces, the most common cause of wheezing attacks.

Exposure to the mite also causes eczema, a painful and itchy skin condition which, in severe cases, particularly in children, can require hospital treatment.

Allergic illnesses happen because the immune system overreacts to the presence of an 'allergen' such as the dust mite, launching a massive response which causes inflammation in the airways of asthma patients, or in the skin of eczema sufferers.

Some people believe that the relative cleanliness of the modern world is partly to blame, as the immune system is not exposed to allergens correctly in childhood, preventing it from developing correctly.

Rates of asthma have doubled in the last 20 years.

Tolerance rises

The idea behind anti-allergy vaccines is to increase the tolerance of patients to the allergen by 'reprogramming' the immune system to respond differently, in this case by shifting the body to a different, and less powerful, form of immune response.

The latest tests involved 40 patients with 'allergic rhinitis' - inflammation of the nasal passages caused by an allergy attack.

Some were given just the vaccine, while others were given both the jab and a small quantity of the allergen itself.

Patients who got the second option did better - when some were re-tested after six weekly injections, their tolerance of the allergen had increased 100-fold.

The vaccine has also already been tested in asthma and hay fever patients, also with some success, says Cytos.

Lindsey McManus, of the charity Allergy UK, said: "Something that would work right across the board like this would be fantastic news for allergy sufferers."

However, she said that the vaccine was still at a very early stage of testing, and that it was not yet clear when it could be available to doctors - or its cost.

"It could be many years before this actually comes out - people should not get too excited at this point," she said.