Schistosomiasis vaccine made in Brazil will have a decisive test in Senegal

Jornal Folha de S Paulo Online/SP | 09/06/2016
Researchers from Brazil, Senegal and France has started a decisive test for their schistosomiasis vaccine, a disease caused by worms which poses a health risk to 200 million people around the world.

Around 350 volunteers who live in regions strongly affected by the parasites should receive immunization, after initial evaluation, which indicated the vaccine is able to stimulate the organism to confront the invaders.

For scientists of Fiocruz (Fundação Oswaldo Cruz), in Rio de Janeiro, the so-called phase 2 of clinical tests of the vaccine, whose objective is testing its efficacy in a relatively wide group of people, is special.

Thirty (30) years ago the main ingredient of the formula has started to be studied by them, and it is the first time in the world that a worm vaccine - and not a virus or bacteria vaccine, as usual - has such a progress in a hard process which precedes commercial release for use in human beings.

“For a long time, people have believed that would be possible to control this type of disease with anthelmintics [drugs against worms]”, tells the physician Miriam Tendler, of Laboratory of Experimental Schistosomiasis of Instituto Oswaldo Cruz. “In 1960s and 1970s, drugs were widely used. The problem is that these drugs only keep the quota of people who need constant medical attention, because the person is treated, is free of the disease for a while and is re-infected.”

This vaccine aims at cutting off this difficulty doing what vaccines do best: generate immunity against the parasite even before it contacts the organism. With that purpose they identified the protein Sm14 (“Sm” is Schistosoma mansoni, a worm species that causes the disease prevailing in Brazil). This protein, present in worm surface, is used so that worm can have lipids (fat molecules) of human host.

The vaccine containing Sm14 leads the organism of vaccinated people to produce antibodies (defense molecules) which specifically act against the presence of S. mansoni, as well as cells that protects the body against the invasion, as revealed by tests with 20 healthy volunteers enrolled in Rio de Janeiro.

Other important ingredient of the vaccine is the adjuvant known as GLA, originally derived from bacteria, which makes the reaction of organism defense system to be even stronger.

Over decades of research, the team of Fiocruz has found that Sm14 is able to produce immunity for several worm species which parasite the intestinal region related to S. mansoni.

This discovery also enabled the creation of a vaccine to cattle, today in advanced development stage, and the possibility to test immunization in Senegal, in regions where there is a high quantity of cases of schistosomiasis, caused by two different worm species, S. haematobium and S. mansoni. Each volunteer will receive three vaccine doses, with intervals of one month between each one of them.

Clinical test in Africa, which shall start in the second half of September 2016, will be conducted in partnership with ONG “Espoir pour La Santé“ (“Hope for Health”, in French) and Institute Pasteur de Lille, in France. “They had a very good structure to test their molecule in field, which did not work. But the structure remained, we had a good contact with them, who got excited to help us”, tells Miriam.

Fiocruz is also negotiating to conduct other arm of phase 2 in a region of Northeast, an area of the country, which still has endemic outbreak of the disease (the new cases in the country today are relatively rare, reaching less than 30 thousand last year).

Other crucial partnership included the company Orygen Biotecnologia, which will participate in the final steps of development and production of the vaccine. “Our intention is to change the course of technologies development against parasite diseases, which today are not a big commercial market, do not attract industry’s interest. We have been trying to change this mindset, with an endemic country developing this technology to help other endemic countries”, Miriam says.
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