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Researchers have developed a vaccine that blocks the effects of the main cause of pain in osteoarthritis (OA) - nerve growth factor (NGF) - in mice.

Walking away with frame

In a collaborative effort between the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology and the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, with colleagues in the University of Bern, and the Latvian Biomedical Research & Study Centre, scientists have developed and tested a vaccine that could be used to treat chronic pain caused by osteoarthritis, by blocking the cause of the pain - NGF.

The researchers developed a virus-like particle vaccine that triggers the immune system to produce antibodies to block naturally-occurring NGF. The new vaccine was tested in mice that had signs of painful OA (uneven distribution of weight across the hind legs), and it was shown to visibly reverse these effects.

Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease in humans and is estimated to cost between 1-2.5% of the GDP of developed countries through its debilitating effects. It also represents a substantial social problem because fewer than 25% of patients currently have adequate pain control for their condition, and long-term use of painkillers are well known to pose significant risks.

Professor Tonia Vincent of the Kennedy Institute, said: ‘This is the first successful vaccination to target pain in osteoarthritis, one of the biggest healthcare challenges of our generation’.

‘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 Martin Bachmann comments “I am happy to see the vaccine platform perform so well, and look forward to seeing the vaccine enter clinical testing in companion animals”.

OA vaccine

Dr Stephen Simpson, Director of Research at charity Versus Arthritis, which funded the research said: ‘We know that for the 10m people with arthritis, persistent pain is life changing. 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 pain killers, 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. We are proud to support research such as this, which aims to tackle this urgent problem and discover new ways to help people overcome pain.’

This research brought together Professor Bachmann’s group developing therapeutic vaccines for non-communicable diseases, with Professor Vincent’s group at the Versus Arthritis Centre for Osteoarthritis Pathogenesis.