Is There a Herpes Vaccine?

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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Herpes sucks. Herpes simplex virus (HSV) can cause a wide range of problems, including lesions on the mouth and genitals. There has been a dramatic increase in genital herpes infections over the last several years. Because HSV has a latent phase it likes to reactivate and recur throughout your life—so you can never really forget about it.

Well, now there is exciting news in the fight against HSV. In October 2015 it was announced that a herpes vaccine was in phase II trials, meaning it is being tested on larger groups of people to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Currently known at GEN-003, this potential vaccine against genital herpes could change many lives. Per the manufacturer, Genocea, it is “a protein subunit T cell-enabled therapeutic vaccine, or immunotherapy, designed to reduce the duration and severity of clinical symptoms associated with moderate-to-severe genital herpes, and to control transmission of the infection.”

Wait, what does that mean? Well, T cells (a type of white blood cell that fight infection) are particularly important to the control of genital herpes. GEN-003 stimulates both a T cell and B cell antibody response. GEN-003 has demonstrated significant reductions in the clinical signs of genital herpes and viral shedding (spreading the virus to others).

So, the vaccine helps prevent transmission by decreasing viral shedding of HSV? Yes. In fact, a GEN-003 injection/vaccination resulted in a 58 percent reduction in the viral shedding rate.

Does the vaccine prevent sores and lesions? Yes. the GEN-003 vaccine resulted in significant reductions in lesions—by 43 to 69 percent.

But, I don’t want any lesions at all. Right. So the proportion of patients receiving GEN-003 vaccine who were lesion-free at six months was 30 to 50 percent. This is the same rate that we achieve by having people on daily antivirals (valtrex, etc).

Will I get more than one vaccination? Yes, it looks like it. We will need longer term studies to see what kind of reduction rate we see in lesions and how far apart the doses of the vaccine need to be given. Stay tuned on this as current studies only follow people a year out, since it’s so new.

Is this awesome? Yes, kinda. If approved, GEN-003 would be the first vaccine to address genital herpes.

Dr O.

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