World-first periodontitis vaccine

Professor Eric Reynolds (Portrait by Jeff Crow – Courtesy of DHAA Ltd)

A world-first vaccine which could eliminate severe gum disease, or at least reduce the need for surgery and antibiotics, has been developed by scientists at the Oral Health CRC at the University of Melbourne with industry partner CSL.

The vaccine targets enzymes produced by the bacterium Porphyromonas gingivalis, to trigger an immune response. This response produces antibodies that neutralise the pathogen’s destructive toxins.

CEO of the Oral Health CRC, Melbourne Laureate Professor Eric Reynolds AO, said it was hoped the vaccine would substantially reduce tissue destruction in patients harbouring P. gingivalis.

“Current treatments for periodontitis include professional cleaning and sometimes surgery and antibiotics.  While these are helpful, in many cases the bacterium re-establishes in the dental plaque causing a microbiological imbalance so the disease continues.

“Periodontitis is widespread and destructive. We hold high hopes for this vaccine to improve quality of life for millions of people,” said Professor Reynolds.

Moderate to severe periodontitis affects one in three adults and more than 50 per cent of Australians over the age of 65. It is a chronic disease that destroys gum tissue and bone supporting teeth, leading to tooth loss. It is also associated with diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, dementia and certain cancers.

The research findings were published in the journal NPJ Vaccines (part of the Nature series) in December 2016 and represent analysis of the vaccine’s effectiveness by collaborating groups based in Melbourne and in Cambridge, USA.  Clinical trials in patients with periodontitis could potentially begin in 2018.