First leprosy vaccine makes initial step towards human use

The vaccine has advanced from the preclinical stage after showing significant promise. The candidate is known as LepVax and is part of an overall strategy developed together with the National Hansen’s Disease Program and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The plan is to end the spread of Mycobacterium leprae, the bacteria that cause leprosy, through the potential use of the vaccine alongside improved detection, prevention and treatment. This will be possible through the IDRI having developed a rapid, affordable, point-of-care diagnostic test.

“While previous attempts have used vaccines primarily developed for other diseases, this is the first totally defined vaccine candidate developed specifically for leprosy, using the latest technologies and offering no less than those exposed to leprosy deserve,” said Steven Reed, IDRI President, CEO & Founder. “The leprosy vaccine program at IDRI has benefited greatly from what we’ve learned in the development of tuberculosis vaccine candidates over the past two decades. Although the bacteria that cause tuberculosis and leprosy are related, leprosy vaccine development posed great challenges. This vaccine represents a unique accomplishment, requiring the most advanced technologies in molecular biology and immunology, and American Leprosy Missions has been there from the beginning.”

The vaccine that has been developed is actually able to induce protective responses even after an infection as begun. This means that the vaccine could be used as both a preventative and a protective measure.

Nearly a quarter of a million of people worldwide currently have leprosy; the condition causes disfiguration of the skin and progressive, incurable nerve damage. There are currently treatments for the condition but many take months to take full effect, as well as producing numerous side-effects.

“We are thrilled that after 15 years and an investment of over $5.1 million, made possible by our faithful donors and partners, a leprosy-specific vaccine is beginning a Phase I clinical trial,” says Bill Simmons, President and CEO of American Leprosy Missions. “We believe this may be the most exciting breakthrough in leprosy treatment since multi-drug therapy, the current treatment for leprosy, was launched in the 1980s. We look forward to this vaccine improving the health outcomes of people diagnosed with leprosy. And, it may be that this vaccine can lead to interruption of the transmission of leprosy all together. What a tremendous legacy this would leave for millions of people worldwide.”

Ben Hargreaves

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