A vaccine for people with coeliac disease is one step closer, as phase two clinical trials get underway across Australia.

Led by The Royal Melbourne Hospital, the trial holds the potential to protect coeliac patients from the harmful effects of gluten – the protein found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye).

Dr Jason Tye-Din, principal investigator at The Royal Melbourne Hospital and head of coeliac research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, said the treatment could one day be life-changing for people living with coeliac disease.

“This trial is important in establishing clinical proof-of-concept for a treatment that would provide benefit beyond that of the gluten-free diet,” said Dr Tye-Din.

“The gluten-free diet is the only current treatment for coeliac disease, but it is onerous, complex and not always effective. Even the most diligent patients can suffer the adverse effects of accidental exposure. This study will test if the vaccine, Nexvax2, can specifically target the immune response to gluten in people with coeliac disease and modify the associated effects.”

Sarah Sleet, chief executive of Coeliac UK said: “This is an important step towards finding a vaccine for coeliac disease but further research and clinical trials are needed to make sure there are no side effects and that the vaccine is of benefit.

"The vaccine will initially be assessed in combination with a gluten free diet to protect people from accidental gluten exposure, not as a full replacement for the gluten free diet, although this is ultimately the end goal. 

"Advances in the field of treatment of coeliac disease are exciting and promising. However, a cure will be many years in development.”

The trial of Nexvax2 will start in Melbourne before rolling out in Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Mackay and the Sunshine Coast.

Coeliac UK recently announced that the diagnosis rate of coeliac disease in the UK had risen to 30% of people with the disease.