Herpes simplex virus infections are an enormous global health problem and there is currently no viable vaccine. For nearly three decades, immunologists’ efforts to develop a herpes vaccine have centered on exploiting a single protein found on the virus’s outer surface that is known to elicit robust production of antibodies. Breaking from this approach, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have created a genetic mutant lacking that protein. The result is a powerfully effective vaccine against herpes viruses.
“We have a very promising new candidate for herpes,” says William Jacobs, an HHMI investigator at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, “but this might also be a good candidate as a vaccine vector for other mucosal diseases, particularly HIV and tuberculosis.”
The new vaccine was found to be effective against the two most common forms of herpes that cause cold sores (HSV-1) and genital ulcers (HSV-2). Both are known to infect the body’s nerve cells, where the virus can lay dormant for years before symptoms reappear. The new vaccine is the first to prevent this type of latent infection. “With herpes sores you continually get them,” Jacobs says. “If our vaccine works in humans as it does in mice, administering it early in life could completely eliminate herpes latency.” Jacobs and his colleagues reported their findings on March 10, 2015, in the journal eLife.