One of the most frustrating aspects of having genital herpes is the lack of success in past years towards a cure. The development of a vaccine for chicken pox, a virus in the same family, has led to renewed hopes amongst the genital herpes community for a herpes vaccine. Fortunately, some interesting advances have been made.
So far, the year 2017 has brought some fantastic progress in the theories behind how to best vaccinate against and cure genital herpes. First let’s explore what has been used prior to this year.
Current Treatments for Herpes
Available treatments for primary infections currently involve anti-viral drugs in various preparations. More commonly Acyclovir (Zovirax) and less commonly Valacyclovir (Valtrex) and Famcyclovir (Famvir) are used. These drugs address symptoms the virus can cause by attacking the virus directly. There are other treatments available that can help sores heal faster or generally address the discomfort of genital herpes, but none of these are FDA-approved.
Patients do not enjoy the idea of having to take these medications for the rest of their lives. Aside from the cost, each of these drugs carry their own risks including rare and hazardous side effects. The solution, aside from safe sex practices, is the development of herpes vaccines that are designed to prevent and/or cure genital herpes.
This so far has proven very challenging due to the ability of herpes simplex virus (HSV) to evade the host immune system.
Herpes Vaccine Studies from 2017
In January of this year positive findings were published by Genocea for a therapeutic vaccine, meaning a vaccine intended to treat existing HSV infections and prevent future outbreaks, that was named “GEN-003”. They were able to demonstrate immune responses against HSV which reduced viral shedding and rates of lesions (1). Other research groups examined these findings and agreed that the study showed promise, though they noted some issues with the dosing outcomes (2).
There have been other approaches attempted this year as well in animal testing. In February one study conducted on guinea pigs at the Perelman School of Medicine in Pennsylvania tested the use of a “trivalent” vaccine, which means it contained three targets for the immune system (3). Another study published in March demonstrated how utilizing vaccines created from other viruses can be effective in acute HSV infections in mice (4).
Overall experts are agreeing that research is progressing in a useful direction and that we are close to the next breakthrough in HSV treatment (5).
What Treatments are on the Horizon?
The previously mentioned vaccine “GEN-003” has had success in the phase 2 testing and Genocea assures the completion of the final stage 3 study by year end. There are no guarantees at this stage of the process however the prospects for an alternative treatment for HSV is very promising with the advent of vaccine therapies.
By December 2018 clinical trials for “HSV529” by Sanofi Pasteur are slated to be complete while later that year in July “VCL-HB01” by Vical should be complete as well. Both of these are therapeutic vaccines as well, with HSV529 targeting one HSV marker and adding an antiviral and VCL-HB01 targeting two HSV markers (GEN-003 also targets two separate markers).
Overall the future outlook for vaccine development is extremely bright and individuals that suffer from genital herpes have the right to be excited. We are closer today to a successful vaccination for HSV than we have been in the past 70 years or more of research on the subject.
- 1. Bernstein, David I., Anna Wald, Terri Warren, Kenneth Fife, Stephen Tyring, Patricia Lee, Nick Van Wagoner et al. “Therapeutic Vaccine for Genital Herpes Simplex Virus-2 Infection: Findings From a Randomized Trial.”The Journal of Infectious Diseases 215, no. 6 (2017): 856-864. [link]
- 2. Cohen, Jeffrey I. “Vaccination to Reduce Reactivation of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2.” The Journal of infectious diseases215, no. 6 (2017): 844-846. [link]
- 3. Awasthi, Sita, Lauren M. Hook, Carolyn E. Shaw, and Harvey M. Friedman. “A Trivalent Subunit Antigen Glycoprotein Vaccine as Immunotherapy for Genital Herpes in the Guinea Pig Genital Infection Model.” Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeuticsjust-accepted (2017): 00-00. [link]
- 4. Liu, Wei, Yan Zhou, Ziyan Wang, Zeqiang Zhang, Qizhi Wang, Weiheng Su, Yan Chen et al. “Evaluation of recombinant adenovirus vaccines based on glycoprotein D and truncated UL25 against Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 in mice.” Microbiology and Immunology(2017). [link]
- 5. Gottlieb, Sami L., and Christine Johnston. “Future prospects for new vaccines against sexually transmitted infections.” Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases 30, no. 1 (2017): 77-86. [link]