Vaccine hope to treat Crohn’s disease is one step closer

Professor John Hermon-Taylor
Professor John Hermon-Taylor
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A vaccine aimed at treating crippling bowel condition Crohn’s disease is one step closer.

Recruitment is taking place for the next stage of the Crohn’s MAP Vaccine trials at the prestigious Jenner’s Institute at Oxford University.

This follows a successful initial trial of the first component of the innovative vaccine two years ago on healthy volunteers for safety and efficiency.

Researchers believe it is a breakthrough in the battle to find a cure for the disease. The modern therapeutic vaccine would treat as well as prevent Crohn’s.

Scotland has one of the highest incidences of Crohn’s disease in the world with more than one in 200 people affected. The majority of these are young people and children.

Professor John Hermon-Taylor of King’s College, London is convinced a TB-like bacterium called MAP (Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis) is the cause of the disease.

Today (Friday, March 15) is World MAP Day, aimed at raising awareness of the bug. MAP is proven to cause Johne’s Disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease affecting cattle, which is strikingly similar to Crohn’s disease.

The bug belongs to a family of bacteria called ‘Mycobacteria’, which also includes Tuberculosis and Leprosy.

Preliminary studies of the vaccine in animals have shown it to be safe and effective.

Researchers say the current trials in humans is the next important stage in taking the vaccine from the lab to the clinic.

Crohn’s disease is a debilitating and aggressive form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Symptoms include severe abdominal pain, weight loss, bloody diarrhoea and chronic fatigue. Approximately 80% of patients will need surgery at some point in their lifetime.

The lives of most are blighted by multiple hospitalisations, surgeries and immuno-suppressive therapies, which may have nasty side effects. As a result many people have difficulty holding down a job or attending school. Many young people also need surgery and many end up losing their colons and have ostomies.

On the Crohn’s MAP vaccine website, Professor Hermon-Taylor has posted: “There is no cure for Crohn’s and no cause is officially recognised. However, we believe there is compelling evidence pointing to MAP as the cause of Crohn’s disease”.

Prof Hermon-Taylor, together with Dr Tim Bull and scientists at the Jenner Institute, developed the modern DNA vaccine against MAP.

This took 10 years and initially cost around £850,000, much of it donated by the families of Crohn’s patients, without whom this new vaccine would not exist. Further investment through HAV Vaccines raised the remainder of the finance needed to manufacture the vaccine and get it ready for trial.

Volunteers, mainly made up of Crohn’s patients and their families also raised £700,000 for a diagnostic blood test to run in conjunction with the vaccine trials. Fundraising is still taking place to take the trials to completion.

The website says: “Historically, MAP in humans has been difficult to study as it cannot be seen under an ordinary microscope and is very difficult to grow.

“Testing for MAP by the presence of its DNA (using PCR) has found MAP in up to 92% of Crohn’s patients but until now no-one has developed a test to show MAP in-situ in the tissues of people with Crohn’s disease.

“With the new MAP test developed by Professor Hermon-Taylor, we are seeing it in intricate detail for the very first time.

“The test is an essential ‘companion diagnostic’ for the Vaccine trial; a simple blood test allowing doctors to confirm MAP infection prior to vaccination and monitor patients’ responses to the vaccine. Validation of the new test is almost complete”.

Phase one trial of the second component of the vaccine is now underway on healthy volunteers and it is hoped phase two on Crohn’s patients will run in tandem, beginning at the end of April this year.

If all goes according to plan, trials should be completed by the middle of 2020.

The vaccine has garnered huge support on social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

To find out more, visit www.crohnsmapvaccine.com