A new drug for those with Celiac Disease

How author Emma Swain has been able to experience life because of a new vaccine


Gluten free bread edible for one with Celiac Disease. Photo by Pixabay via Creative Commons.

Emma Swain and Sandra Namminga, Author

Celiac disease is a disease in which the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten, leading to difficulty in digesting food. Therefore, those who are affected by it are forced to go on gluten free diets. Many years ago Celiac disease was unknown to majority of the population, and gluten free foods were just as rare.

When I was first diagnosed with Celiac as a kid, my diet consisted of a limited option of cereals and miscellaneous junk food. Occasionally, my mom would make homemade gluten free bread that was tasteless and hard to swallow. The idea of gluten free foods was undiscovered to the world, and I suffered for years to find a healthy, balanced diet that worked for me.

In 2017, ImmusanT received 40 million dollars to fund further research for Nexvax2. Nexvax2 is a type of immunotherapy that uses the body’s own immune system to treat Celiac disease. The idea behind Nexvax2 is that if a small amount of the vaccine is administered at first, then gradually intensified, the immune system will establish a resistance to a protein, called Giladin, found in gluten. By injecting the Giladin into the person’s bloodstream, the immune system can be tricked into thinking it is a part of their regular diet.

Leslie Williams, the CEO of ImmusanT, says, “People with celiac disease often are afraid of food. Nexvax2 will give them freedom to be able to live life and not being afraid of eating out. It will be socially liberating.”  The vaccine is designed to work for 90% of celiac patients that have a certain gene that allows the vaccine to be revealed to the immune system.

As someone who has suffered from Celiac Disease since the age of four, I have never had the opportunity to eat most foods. I can never go out to eat without the fear of there being a cross-contamination, or the waiter not taking my request for gluten free food seriously. Even going to my friend’s house gives me anxiety because of the lack of gluten free foods in their house.

In September, the first patient received a dose of the vaccine. Immusant has moved into Phase 2 of the clinical trial that consists of 150 participants from the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. For the next 16 weeks, researchers will slowly increase the doses as they record the reactions from the participants.  

The idea that there could be a chance for me to be cured makes me beyond happy. Since I was first diagnosed, options for gluten free foods have expanded, but the stress from constantly worrying about what I am putting in my body is tiring. The vaccine is a way for me to feel relieved from my struggles with food and a way for me to experience a version of the world most other people live everyday.