When Edward Jenner injected a 13-year old boy with the cowpox virus in 1798, he set in motion a chain of events that would revolutionize the way humanity fights disease.
Vaccination has proven to be the key that has allowed us to eradicate smallpox, which killed 400,000 Europeans every year in the 1800s and prevents the horrors that come with infection to a host of other diseases.
But the vaccination story is not only about the historic accomplishments of the past. There are still a number of viruses that man has not yet gotten to grips with.
Scientific researchers are currently developing a number of new vaccines that have the potential to cure the world of these devastating illnesses.
Let’s check out the 9 most promising vaccines that are on the horizon.
Cancer is a killer that hangs over the modern world like a dark shadow.
It can strike anyone at any time, leaving a trail of devastation, and death. There are a number of strains of cancer and there already exist some vaccines which control some of them.
In 2006, a vaccine is known as Gardasil, or the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine, was manufactured by Merck.
HPV is the most sexually transmitted disease in the United States. It is responsible for nearly all of the 12,000 cases of cervical cancer in the United States each year.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that children get the HPV vaccine at age 11-12.
There has, however, been a widespread resistance on the part of parents to allow their children to get the HPV vaccine.
Research into this issue seems to show that many parents are worried that, because HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, the taking of the vaccine will encourage their child to start becoming sexually active.
The research also shows that many parents are not aware of the link between HPV and cervical cancer.
The HPV vaccine is actually able to prevent six types of cancer. A hepatitis B vaccine is also able to prevent liver cancer.
We normally associate vaccines with the prevention of a virus.
However, researchers are looking at the efficacy of also administering vaccines to people after they have been diagnosed with cancer.
An example of this is Provenge immunotherapy which can boost a person’s innate immunity in order to fight advanced prostate cancer cells.
This vaccine is actually able to redirect the immune system in order to zoom in on the cancer-causing cells. Provenge was released onto the market in 2010.
Researchers are currently working on vaccines that are to target cancer mutations while simultaneously boosting the body’s natural ability to fight off the disease.
This is known as cancer immunotherapy. These treatments have caused much press and generated a lot of promise for cancer patients.
One reason for this is the fact that they do not come with the same side effects as chemotherapy.
Famously cancer immunotherapy was used to treat President Jimmy Carter, who is now cancer-free.
More recently, however, some potential side effects have come to light. The first wave of cancer immunotherapy treatment is known as checkpoint inhibitors.
They are designed to block the proteins that most people have that prevent their immune system from fighting cancer cells.
There are currently six checkpoint inhibitors to target lung cancer, blood cancer, and bladder cancer, among others.
The six checkpoint inhibitors currently being used are:
- Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
- Nivolumab (Opdivo)
- Cemiplimab (Libtayo)
- Atezolizumab (Tecentriq)
- Avelumab (Bavencio)
- Durvalumab (Imfinzi)
However, there are some major problems with checkpoint inhibitors. Not all patients are responding to the treatment.
A number of promising new checkpoint inhibitors have also failed key trials.
The treatments are also prohibitively expensive for most people, with a course of treatment costing around $100,000.
It is even feared that some checkpoint inhibitors may cause the immune system o attack other organs of the body.
Checkpoint inhibitors also cause side effects, including the following:
- loss of appetite
- Skin rash
Malaria is a death-dealing disease that is transmitted by mosquitos.
It affects millions of people each year, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. There is currently no vaccine for malaria.
However, in 2018 a pilot program was undertaken under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO) to test an injectible malaria vaccine called ‘RTS S’.
In the meantime, the incidences of malaria around the world have been falling dramatically.
These are as a result of preventative measures including insecticide-treated nets, spraying indoor walls with insecticides, and preventive medicines for the most vulnerable groups: pregnant women, under-fives and infants.
For decades, the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea was treated with antibiotics.
However, a super strain of the virus has emerged that is resistant to antibiotics. According to the WHO, it will only be a matter of time before antibiotics will be totally useless against gonorrhea.
As a result, the race is on to find a vaccine for this STD, which affects 78 million people globally each year, according to the WHO.
According to Teodora Wi, a human reproduction specialist at the Geneva-based U.N. health agency, “Gonorrhoea is a very smart bug.
Every time you introduce a new type of antibiotic to treat it, this bug develops resistance to it.”
The WHO has put out an urgent call for a vaccine to combat gonorrhea, listing it as one of the diseases that pose the most urgent risk to humankind.
Recently, researchers in New Zealand who were looking at a vaccine against meningitis accidentally discovered that the vaccine also protected against gonorrhea.
According to a report in the British medical journal Lancet, this was the first time that a vaccine has shown any hope of defeating gonorrhea.
There was a large outbreak of meningococcal b disease in New Zealand in the early 2000s.
There was no meningococcal b vaccine, so the NZ government put an urgent request to the World Health organization to tailor make a vaccine for them.
A vaccine to specifically target the strain of vaccine affecting New Zealanders was developed in a collaboration between Chiron Vaccines, the National Institute of Public Health of Norway (NIPH) and the New Zealand government.
The vaccine that was developed specifically attacked the vesicle or sac on the outer membrane of the bacteria.
Between 2004 and 2006 a mass inoculation took place throughout New Zealand, resulting in 90 percent of the population getting the vaccine.
When the results were published, something very interesting was noticed. After the inoculation program, the cases of gonorrhea in New Zealand went down significantly.
It was realized that Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria (which cause gonorrhea) and Neisseria meningitides bacteria (which cause meningococcal disease) are related.
In fact, they are referred to by researchers as ‘cousins.’ That is because their genetic make-up only differs by 10-15 percent.
Testing was undertaken to see whether the vaccine would specifically treat gonorrhea.
It was found that taking the meningococcal vaccine would provide a 31 percent reduction in gonorrhea susceptibility.
The vaccine that was administered in tNew Zealand between 2004 and 2006 is no longer licensed.
However, researchers have taken the membrane attacking component of that vaccine and have been included in a vaccine that is currently being developed by Glaxo Smith Kline called Bexsero.
Between 2014 and 2016, Ebola reached epidemic proportions.
An Ebola vaccine was developed by Merck and trialed on 6,000 people. The vaccine was shown to be 100 percent effective.
This ebola vaccine is not being used among the general population. If there is another Ebola outbreak, the WHO will have to decide whether to make use of it again.
Another long-lasting vaccine against Ebola is currently under development.
The vaccine, which will be delivered in two parts, is being developed by a partnership between Johnson & Johnson and Danish Bavarian Nordic.
Trials have shown that this vaccine will provide 100 percent protection against Ebola for a period of 12 months.
Researcher Matthew Snape of the University of Oxford, commented, ‘The persistence of vaccine-induced immunity to one-year post-immunization is truly impressive.
The fact that all participants retained Ebola-specific antibodies to the end of the study does raise hope that this vaccine could induce responses that last for several years.’
The first dose of this vaccine primes the immune system, while the second boosts the body’s response to the virus.
Johnson and Johnson are currently undertaking trials with their Ebola vaccine.
This involves testing the vaccine on more than a thousand people in Africa. Meanwhile, the company has 1.8 million doses on standby.
There has been more publicity and effort put into finding a vaccine to eradicate HIV than any other.
However, nothing solid has emerged despite some promising signs.
In 2017, Johnson and Johnson put out a press release to the effect than an early-stage trial of an HIV-1 vaccine had been ‘well tolerated.’
It had taken the company 12 years to get the vaccine to that stage. It will still be a number of years before an HIV virus is available for general use.
Norovirus affects around 21 million Americans every year.
This highly contagious disease causes vomiting, nausea and diarrhea, and stomach pains. As of this writing, there is no vaccine for norovirus.
A company called Vaxart is currently working on a tablet vaccine for norovirus.
They announced in 2017 that initial trials were very successful. It has shown itself to be safe, now it needs to prove just how effective it is.
Universal Flu Vaccine
Influenza kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people around the world every single year.
The flu vaccine is different from almost any other vaccine. Most vaccines only need to be administered once or twice over the course of a person’s lifetime.
However, people get their flu shot every single year. So, why the big difference?
The influenza virus has so many different mutations constantly emerging that the WHO is regularly authorizing new versions of the vaccine to fight these emerging strains.
But imagine if you could take just one flu shot that would protect from every conceivable strain. That is exactly what researchers are currently working on developing.
Vaccine developer Sanofi claims to be close to perfecting a universal flu vaccine.
Their goal is to come out with a vaccine that could provide protection for a number of years. To do so, Sanofi is developing new synthetic vaccines that are unlike any that have gone before.
Whereas today’s flu shots cover three or four strains at most, the new universal vaccine will provide broad coverage.
The universal flu vaccine is still in its pre-clinical phase. Within the next couple of years, it should move to the clinical trial phase.
As of the time of writing, there are two vaccines in the works to combat opioid addiction.
Neither of them has reached the trial stage yet. A heroin vaccine would work by destroying the drug in the person’s system before it reached the brain.
Dr. Kim Janda of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California has been working on a heroin vaccine for more than 10 years.
He is a pioneer in the field who has also recently been working on a vaccine for fentanyl, a painkiller which is 50 times more powerful than heroin.
Competing with Dr. Janda to come out with a heroin vaccine is Dr. Gary Matyas, from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland, a facility run by the Department of Defence.
Dr. Matyas has been working on the vaccine since 2011 when he was seeking an HIV vaccine. The vaccine he is currently working on is a combination HIV / Heroin vaccine.
A potential heroin vaccine would work by assisting the immune system to make antibodies that would recognize heroin molecules and take them out before they reach the brain receptors.
This will prevent the person from getting high. This, theoretically, should help a person to break their addiction to heroin.
The vaccines being worked on by the two doctors have quite different mechanisms of action.
The vaccine being developed by Dr. Janda is designed to get rid of heroin from a person’s system.
Dr. Matyas, on the other hand, is developing his vaccine to bind to the compounds that heroin breaks down into in the body.
This vaccine has the potential to have a positive effect on a number of other vaccines besides heroin.
With many addicts switching between drugs of choice, this could be very beneficial.
Neither of the vaccines currently addresses the long term lack of endorphins that comes when people stop using opioids.
At this stage, both vaccines have only been tested on animals. The hope is to get human trials up and running in two years but this could conceivably take more than a decade to complete.
It has been estimated that it will also take between $30-40 million to bring a heroin vaccine to the market.
The Zika virus held the world in the grip of a worldwide epidemic in 2016.
The hunt for a vaccine began at that time. The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is working on a number of potential vaccines to defeat the Zika virus.
A DNA based Zika vaccine went into a Phase One clinical trial stage in August 2016. Phase 2 trialing began in March 2017.
This trial involves some 2,500 people and lasts for two years. As of this writing, the results of the trial have not been published.
Another potential Zika virus vaccine was developed by researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR).
The vaccine is called ZPIV. Phase One Trial testing is currently underway on this vaccine. The trial was co-funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Glaxo Smith Kline is also working on a Zika vaccine.
In addition, a London based pharmaceutical company called SEEK is developing a vaccine called AGS-v, which is intended to protect against a number of mosquito-borne diseases, including Zika.
The vaccine is designed to bring about the immune response to mosquito salivary proteins instead of to a specific virus.
The future promise of vaccines holds out a great deal of hope for the world.
It holds out the tantalizing prospect of curing mankind of the diseases that have plagued it from the beginning of time.