New vaccine touts gluten freedom for bread lovers with celiac disease

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Gluten research is going global.

A new vaccine, Nexvax2, is formulated to target the immune system, extinguishing the agonizing intestinal flare-ups sparked when people with celiac disease eat wheat, rye or barley.

During an initial trial phase in 2011, the therapeutic vaccine was determined to be safe, but after a $40 million influx of research funding, Nexvax2 is about be tested worldwide, according to Beyond Celiac, an advocacy group.

ImmusanT, the Massachusetts-based biotech company that’s developing Nexvax2, hopes to enroll 150 patients from the United States, Australia and New Zealand in the second-phase international trial, People magazine reports.

“The vaccine is designed to target the 90 percent of celiac disease patients with the HLA-DQ2 genetic form of disease,” Dr. Jason Tye-Din, head of celiac research at Royal Melbourne Hospital, tells the Sydney Morning Herald.

Dr. Tye-Din is actively recruiting patients to take part in the study because “a successful therapy that can restore normal gluten tolerance would revolutionize celiac disease management.”

Common celiac symptoms include an upset stomach that’s often misdiagnosed as irritable-bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue or iron deficiency.

Right now, the trendy — albeit ultrastrict — gluten-free diet is the only recognized medical treatment, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.

Another kick in the gut: Nearly a third of restaurant dishes hyped as “gluten-free” contain trace levels of the proteins, which can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and intestinal damage, a recent study by the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center suggests.

Immunologist Dr. Bob Anderson, chief scientific officer at ImmusanT, tells the Sydney Morning Herald that the goal of the injectable vaccine is to desensitize patients to three specific gluten peptides.

“The drug triggers the death of the cells that cause the damaging immune response,’’ Anderson says. “By doing that you switch the immune reaction from a damaging one to a tolerant one . . . It has the potential to switch off the immune reaction to gluten and allow people to return to a normal diet.”

A potential added benefit: Anderson says the vaccine could also be used to diagnose the disease — which currently requires an invasive intestinal biopsy that costs thousands of dollars.

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