Hooray! Herpes Vaccines Are Underway!

Combining herpes with a toxic bacteria and injecting it into your body sounds like a terrible idea, right? At first, absolutely. But surprisingly, this seemingly horrific combination may be exactly what all us sex loving folks have been waiting for, the key to a herpes-free future in the form of a preventative vaccine.

vaccineraceWhat is Herpes?

Don’t know the basics about herpes yet? As of right now, it’s a lifelong and highly contagious affliction with no cure. While it’s not fatal, it creates open and oozing blisters and sores, opening up a direct pathway into the bloodstream which significantly increases the likelihood of catching a secondary STD, like HIV.

For your and your partner’s protection, check out this informative article ‘Herpes Simplex Virus‘ from our STD Risk Assessment Page to find out how to reduce the likelihood of catching or spreading HSV-1 (oral herpes) and/or HSV-2 (genital herpes). If you already have herpes, like one in six Americans do, ‘Disclosing STDs: Before and After‘ is a helpful communication and STD-related relationship resource.

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Herpes Vaccines in Development: The Race for First Place

Ever since 2011, the race to be the first to research, develop and test a viable herpes vaccine has been underway, in a big way. For the past three years, the major BioTech contenders hustling for victory against this virus are: GlaxoSmithKline, Agenus, Vical, Tomegavax, Sanofi-NIH and Genocea.

After some disappointing data regarding the effectiveness of these early vaccination formulas, specifically the one made in 2012 called HerpeVac, GlaxoSmithKline was left behind in the dust. An unsatisfactory stat of 20% protection against HSV-1 and HSV-2 in women and a 0% success rate for men, was the bitter end of the once hope-inducing HerpeVac.

My skeptical side has an inkling as to the true cause of this fail. GSK is the sole owner of Valtrex, the only herpes treatment available in pill form. I suspect the shortcomings of HerpeVac had more to do with the projected profit losses from millions of unfilled anti-viral Valtrex prescriptions and less to do with actually curing or preventing herpes (only a one time profit for them). It feels like a conflict of interest, much like Trojan condoms and First Response Pregnancy Tests being owned by the same parent company. It’s OK, Glaxo– we all still love you guys for protecting us against dreaded, sexually-transmitted hepatitis strains.

When Agenus and Sanofi-NIH combined forces in late 2013 in an effort to improve the quality, cost effectiveness and to decrease the timeframe which this new vaccine will take to receive the essential FDA stamp of approval, they totally dominated the battle to create a more successful herpes vaccine. Their latest press release in June of 2014 reports a 75% reduction in viral load in those who were vaccinated, which is enough to decrease both the severity and frequency of outbreaks.

Hold up though, because it’s a close one and Agenus is not alone in this neck-and-neck vax competition. Vical, Tomegavax and Genocea are not giving up that easily. These three corporations are still contenders in the race. Developing and selling a herpes vaccine means media attention and rising profits for the stockholders in these companies, particularly when you consider the sheer number of potential customers, as experts estimate that 45 million people over the age of 18 have either HSV-1 and/or HSV-2. One of the major holdups for these companies, across the board, is increasing the success rate of the vaccine in male patients, as so far all of the vaccines have been more beneficial to women.

When it comes to medical innovation– where there is a will, and proper funding, there is a way. In fact, other non-sexually transmitted herpes viruses like chickenpox and herpes zoster (shingles) already have FDA approved vaccines on the market. But, they are only helpful if you get them in time, so listen up parents and expecting parents– like HPV, the older you are and the more partners you’ve had, the more likely you are to catch the virus. Unlike the age restrictions on the HPV vaccine Gardasil, no official word has been released to the press about any age restrictions on these potential herpes vaccines, but if at all possible getting it early on in life could offer the most protection for your kids in their future.

Who will win this relay to the herpes-free finish line? Will it be a photo finish between all of them, or will one company pull ahead in the final lap? We’ll let you know when it happens, but for now, only time will tell. But, one thing is for certain– currently, there are more real reasons to hope for the end of the herpes transmission era than ever before, and at the risk of making a cold sore crack in the process, I think this particular race is one worth smiling about.

Sources: [Fierce Vaccines, Boston Business Journal, CDC]

About Condom Depot

The Condom Depot Learning Center provides free safer sex ed and has recently been resourced by Men's Health, Go Ask Alice, Her Campus, LifeHacker, Scarleteen, Bustle, Madame Noire, Jezebel, Vice, Stallion Style, aPlus, Sex Talk Tuesday and Adult Sex Ed Month.

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