Safer shingles vaccine approved by FDA

syringe and vial of clear liquidThe U.S. Food & Drug Administration recently approved a new vaccine against shingles that was originally developed at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford.

Abbas Vafai, who was associate professor of microbiology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford from 1990 to 1997, worked on the development of the Shingrix vaccine, which received approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Association in October. He started work on the vaccine while at the University of Colorado before coming to Rockford. Vafai is now associate director for program planning and policy development at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The vaccine, which has a much lower risk of side effects and can be used in people who are immunocompromised, unlike other shingles vaccines on the market, will be sold by pharmaceutical company GSK. The Centers for Disease Control ‘s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that adults who have already received the older vaccine should also receive Shingrix, which means that as many as 62 million more adults in the U.S. should be immunized.

The committee also advised that Shingrix be recommended for people starting at age 50, a full 10 years earlier than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice for older shingles vaccine Zostavax.

Shingles is a painful condition caused by the virus responsible for causing chicken pox, which usually strikes during childhood. Later in life, the latent virus may become active and presents as a painful rash.  Thirty-three percent of Americans will suffer from a shingles outbreak at least once in their lifetime.

Unlike prior vaccines, Shingrix is safer to administer to patients with weaker immune systems because it uses a recombinant protein antigen instead of an attenuated live virus. This means that Shingrix does not contain a fully intact virus that could replicate on its own and pose a risk to weaker patients. The older vaccine, Zostavax had shown a 51 percent reduction in shingles and a 67 percent reduction in nerve pain. Shingrix is given in two doses eight weeks apart, and clinical trials showed it to be about 98 percent effective for one year and about 85 percent over three years.

Shingrix is the fourth UIC therapeutic to receive regulatory approval, joining a growing list of successful products including Prezista, Tice BCG, and OrthoAccel. A fifth drug, Yondelis, was originally discovered at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.

Vafai worked with the UIC Office of Technology management to help commercialize his invention.

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