Researchers from Flinders University have developed a highly effective vaccine for European honeybee stings using a unique adjuvant.
After successful lab trial results, researchers are now conducting clinical trials on humans using ant venom therapy followed by sting challenges to further test the effectiveness of the adjuvant in insect sting vaccines.
Insect sting allergies affect more than five per cent of the United States population according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and about 50 million people are affected by nasal allergies.
Lead researcher and SA Pathology chief pathologist, Flinders Associate Professor Robert Heddle, said insect allergies affected millions of people around the world.
“There are more people in Australia dying from sting allergies than nut allergies but it still flies under the radar,” said Associate Professor Heddle, who also teaches at the University of Adelaide.
“With the help of delta-inulin (Advax) we seem to have enhanced responses without it needing to be chemically combined and it is a much cheaper option.
“We think the results were very promising with the bee venom and there was no evidence that the inulin did anyone in the study any harm.”
The delta-inulin could potentially also be used as a nasal vaccine against allergies such as pollen or dust but the research has not yet extended into peanut or other food allergies.
In collaboration with the Royal Hobart Hospital in Tasmania, Professor Heddle and his team have begun trials on a vaccine for hopper ant or jack jumper ant stings, which are a major problem across south-eastern Australia.
He said the difficult task of obtaining the insect venom and high cost of manufacturing had previously made it difficult to commercialise a sufficient number of high-quality vaccines.
However, he said the addition of the unique delta-inulin adjuvant would not only reduce the cost of production but it also increased the vaccine’s effectiveness.
The adjuvant acts as a turbocharger to help the body’s immune system recognise and target venom much faster than other contemporary methods as it is injected into the body.
This means that because the venom is easier to recognise, smaller doses of the scarce insect venom could potentially be used in each vaccine, helping to reduce costs of production as well.
A commercialised version of the bee vaccine would protect people with allergies against reactions, however it would require them to take multiple doses over a period of three years to build up their immune system.
The adjuvant that was used to enhance the vaccines was developed in Adelaide by Vaxine Pty Ltd. It is called Advax and has also been used to develop vaccines for seasonal and pandemic influenza, hepatitis, malaria, SARS and other diseases.
The company recently developed a vaccine for onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, a disease that affects about 17 million people around the world, according to the World Health Organisation.
Advax Managing Director, Flinders Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, said the success of the Beevax trials had paved the way for his adjuvant to cross over from a purely infectious disease vaccine turbocharger to an allergy vaccine booster as well.
“It’s a dangerous manufacturing process because the researchers get stung themselves and you don’t get much from just one of them so you need a lot,” he said.
“The adjuvant speeds things up but could also help make the vaccines more available because you could potentially reduce the dosage and still have it be effective.”
Professor Petrovsky said he had been in talks with the United States Government about other allergy vaccines for cockroaches, dust mites and various pollen allergies.
A paper on the Beevax study is being finalised and clinical trials on the hopper ant are ongoing.
This article was first published by The Lead.