Cat lovers may soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief, as researchers move closer to a vaccine that could help combat cat allergies.
“Our allergologists were frustrated by lack of effective therapies for cat allergy and our vaccinologists had an innovative vaccine technology to target self-molecules,” said Martin Bachman, PhD, a professor of immunology at Universität Bern and the University of Oxford and co-author of the study. “They thought the best approach was to tackle the problem at the highest point upstream—that’s the cat itself. So we thought to tackle the problem through vaccination of the cat against Fel d 1.”
Switzerland’s HypoPetAG recently published a study demonstrating that its new cat allergy vaccine, HypoCat, was effective in neutralizing antibodies against Fel d 1, the most common cat allergen for humans. According to the study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, about 10 percent of the Western population is allergic to cats, particularly the Fel d 1 glycoprotein, which is secreted through feline saliva, skin, and sebaceous glands.
The vaccine developed by HypoPet is actually given to the cats rather than to humans, and modifies the cat’s immune system to destroy Fel d 1 before it is ever released.
“The drug concept is to use an advanced vaccine technology to induce antibodies that neutralize the allergen Fel d 1 in the cat itself. It is similar to the classical concept of a vaccination, where you induce antibodies against a pathogen, such as flu and protect you from infection by this foreign pathogen,” Bachmann said. “But we differ in that when we vaccinate the cat with our specially designed vaccine, the animal rather than making an antibody against something foreign makes antibodies against its own protein to the cat allergen Fel d 1. Which subsequently is neutralized and cannot induce an allergic reaction in humans.”
More than 50 cats have been given the vaccine, according to the study, and blood samples from the cats were introduced to blood samples from humans with cat allergies, revealing significantly lessened allergic reactions, according to the report. Every one of the cats that received the vaccine induced a strong, sustained IgG antibody response—an unexpected success, Bachmann said.
Additionally, none of the cats experienced any adverse effects from the vaccine, according to the study.
Commercial availability of the vaccine is still a long way off, as additional human trials and approval are still required. Bachmann said he anticipates a vaccine might be ready for use in about two years. In addition to help pet owners who love, but can’t tolerate cats without an allergic reaction, the vaccine could help reduce the number of cats that are relinquished to shelters each year due to allergies—a number the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates at about 375,000.
“We hope that we can spare the families the pain of giving the cat away when someone in the family develops cat allergy—and the cat the pain of having to go to the shelter