Novel Vaccine Blocks Osteoarthritis Pain in Mice

An international team of scientists from the UK, Switzerland and Latvia has developed a virus-like particle vaccine that could be used to treat chronic pain caused by osteoarthritis, by blocking the cause of the pain — the nerve growth factor. The new vaccine was tested in mice that had signs of painful osteoarthritis, and it was shown to visibly reverse these effects.

Pain in osteoarthritis poses a substantial social and economic burden with fewer than 25% of patients having adequate pain control. NGF has emerged as a key driver of pain behavior in murine studies and antibodies to NGF are potent analgesics in human osteoarthritis. Using a novel virus-like particle, von Loga et al created a therapeutic vaccine that reversibly induced antibodies against NGF and abrogated pain behavior in murine osteoarthritis. Image credit: OpenStax / CC BY 4.0.

Pain in osteoarthritis poses a substantial social and economic burden with fewer than 25% of patients having adequate pain control. NGF has emerged as a key driver of pain behavior in murine studies and antibodies to NGF are potent analgesics in human osteoarthritis. Using a novel virus-like particle, von Loga et al created a therapeutic vaccine that reversibly induced antibodies against NGF and abrogated pain behavior in murine osteoarthritis. Image credit: OpenStax / CC BY 4.0.

Osteoarthritis is the most prevalent joint disease costing approximately 1-2.5% of the gross domestic product of developed countries.

Greater than 75% of patients experience pain on a daily basis. Current standard therapies for pain relief, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and opioids are limited by their modest efficacy and long-term safety.

In the last decade, the nerve growth factor (NGF) has emerged as a promising target for osteoarthritis pain.

“This is the first successful vaccination to target pain in osteoarthritis, one of the biggest healthcare challenges of our generation,” said co-lead author Professor Tonia Vincent, a researcher at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology at the University of Oxford.

“Whilst there are still safety issues that need to be considered before these types of approaches can be used in patients, we are reassured that this vaccine design allows us to control antibody levels and thus tailor treatment to individual cases according to need.”

Professor Vincent and colleagues developed and tested a virus-like particle vaccine that triggers the immune system to produce antibodies to block naturally-occurring NGF.

“I’m happy to see the vaccine platform perform so well, and look forward to seeing the vaccine enter clinical testing in companion animals,” said co-lead author Professor Martin Bachmann, from the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford and the University of Bern.

“We know that for the 10 millions people with arthritis, persistent pain is life changing,” said Dr. Stephen Simpson, Director of research at Versus Arthritis, which funded the research.

“Too many people living with pain do not get effective relief from the treatments that are currently available, and that is why the development of more effective painkillers, with fewer side-effects, is vital for people living with arthritis.”

“Although at an early stage, this is highly innovative research and these results are very promising.”

The results appear in the Annals of Rheumatic Disease.

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Isabell S. von Loga et al. Active Immunisation Targeting Nerve Growth Factor Attenuates Chronic Pain Behaviour in Murine Osteoarthritis. Annals of Rheumatic Disease, published online March 12, 2019;

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