Clinical trials are set to start on a host of allergy vaccines developed by scientists in Finland. The researchers believe the trial could herald a new era of allergy treatment for millions of sufferers world-wide.
(VTT) - Scientists at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland are aiming to make antihistamines an obsolete treatment for allergy sufferers. They've developed patented technology to help the body develop resistance to allergens - the protein that causes allergies.
Allergy symptoms occur when an allergen molecule interacts with an antibody in the blood of sufferers called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). That interaction triggers the release of histamines from white blood cells, which produce the itchy eyes and skin, nasal congestion, constant sneezing, and rashes, known to allergy sufferers all over the world. They are most prevalent during the summer when pollen counts are high.
The vaccines have been designed to block the meeting of the allergen molecule and the antibody, thereby preventing the histamine-producing reasction.
VTT has set up a commercial company called Desentum Oy, which aims to develop a product line of between 20 and 25 new hypoallergens that could function as vaccines against the principal allergens, such as birch, grass and ragweed pollen, pet allergens and food proteins.
The allergy vaccine development is based on a scientific breakthrough made five years ago, in a joint project run by VTT, the University of Eastern Finland (UEF) and the Skin and Allergy Hospital of Helsinki University Central Hospital, in which scientists demonstrated how an allergen and the Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody bind to one another.
The scientists were the first to describe the precise 3D structure of this bond. This structural description led to two important discoveries about the general structural properties of allergens, which in turn facilitated the development of vaccines for safer and more effective allergy desensitisation treatments.
Professors Kristiina Takkinen and Hans Söderlun, of VTT, and UEF's Professor Juhu Rouvinen, discovered the unique IgE binding structures in allergens in 2006. They showed that these structures can be genetically modified so they do not bind to IgE anymore, but can still induce the production of the immunoglobulin G (IgG), which protects people from allergic symptoms by actually prohibiting the formation of IgE-allergen complexes. They hypothesised that this could prevent the degranulation and histamine release from white blood cells.
"When we got the first IgE allergy complex structure it was at 2006. So we immediately recognised that the binding of this IG antibody was different that was anticipated earlier. And that's the basis of our hypothesis and the hypo-allergen development as well," said Takkinen.
The aim is to create a vaccine that can be taken orally in tablet form. The first products are expected to enter clinical testing in 2014, although at least five years of research, testing and licensing will be necessary before a vaccine is likely to be available.
"At this moment those results that we have obtained that we have done to confirm our high prophecies they are looking very promising. But still we need more, we'll have to produce more hypo-allergen candidates and look with a bigger patient samples how they are working. So now we know for let's say for ten patients that this could be a good medicine but for larger populations we'll have to do much bigger studies," Takkinen said.
The animal loving Partio family live in Helsinki, but children Julia and Jemima often find their friends will not visit their home because of allergic reactions to their pets. The family has a dog called Nipsu, a rabbit named Nuutti, as well as Ninni the cat. According to mother Tiina, "it's very sad that some of our daughter's friends are unable to visit us because they are allergic and couldn't stay with us for overnight. It would be very nice to have, for example, some kind of vaccination which would help in these situations."
VTT estimate the number of people suffering from allergies in Europe to be more than 80 million, with a further 65 million in the United States. Helsinki chemist Tiina Miettinen has to regularly re-stock her large selection of in-store allergy treatments to keep up with demand.
"The medications are widely used, tablets (meaning pills) usually but some people also use the nasal sprays as well and most people don't suffer from too much side effects so they are usually well taken and…but they only treat the symptoms," she said
Miettinen believes a range of allergy vaccinations would be "a welcome product for people who have difficult allergies."