Hunt for EBV Vaccine Gets a Boost From NIH
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is joining the search for a vaccine to attack the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). This is a big deal for people with multiple sclerosis, because carrying the virus is thought to play a significant role in the development of MS. In fact, research published earlier this year by Harvard scientists concludes that a previous EBV infection may increase a person’s MS risk by 32 times.
There’s a good chance you’re among the 90-95% of the world’s population who have been infected by EBV, which often occurs during childhood. EBV can cause mononucleosis and other illnesses, although frequently, people who have EBV show no symptoms at all.
Fighting MS by fighting EBV
Multiple efforts are underway to develop EBV vaccines and therapies. An investigational therapy called ATA188 is among those being researched, and a small study has indicated that this treatment may have an impact on MS. Researchers hope to enroll up to 80 non-active primary and secondary progressive MS patients with evidence of past or current EBV infection in their study’s second phase.
Moderna, which produces one of the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines, is further along in its quest. The company is sponsoring a clinical trial for a possible EBV vaccine that uses the same mRNA technology as the COVID-19 vaccine. Researchers hope to enroll about 270 participants across 15 sites in the U.S.
Other researchers are investigating whether an experimental COVID-19 T-cell therapy called TVGN-489 can be used against EBV for the treatment of MS.
NIH plans EBV vaccine trial
The NIH study carries with it the considerable weight of this major research institution. The study plans to enroll 40 healthy adults ages 18 to 29, half of whom have evidence of prior EBV infection. Over a six-month period, they’ll receive three injections of an experimental vaccine called EBV gp350-Ferritin, developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ (NIAID) Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, which is part of the NIH. It targets a glycoprotein found on the surface of the virus and virus-infected cells. This investigational vaccine showed encouraging results in an EBV mouse model about four years ago.
“A vaccine that could prevent or reduce the severity of infection with the Epstein-Barr virus could reduce the incidence of infectious mononucleosis and might also reduce the incidence of EBV-associated malignancies and autoimmune diseases,” NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, MD, said in a press release.
Which brings us back to MS
The words “autoimmune diseases” in Dr. Fauci’s quote are what jump out to me, because MS is one of those autoimmune diseases. In their report earlier this year, the Harvard researchers wrote: “The extremely low MS risk in EBV-negative individuals suggests that, by far, most MS cases are caused by EBV and could thus potentially be prevented by a suitable vaccine.”
Is an EBV vaccine the MS cure we’ve all been hoping for? Let’s hope the added research muscle of the NIH will lead to an EBV vaccine sooner rather than later.
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