Australian researchers at Flinders University and the Royal Adelaide Hospital have successfully tested an antiallergic bee-sting vaccine — and it worked buzzingly.

Leafcutter bee.

Image via Pixabay.

For most of us, bee stings are definitely unpleasant and painful; for a ‘lucky’ few, however, they’re potentially deadly. Bee-sting-induced allergic reactions can be severe enough to cause death. Bee stings remain the single “most lethal venomous animal encounter” in the US through the allergic (anaphylactic) shock they can cause, previous research has reported.

The team plans to make it easier than ever to prevent those deaths. They have successfully completed a human trial of a vaccine designed to eliminate the risk of severe allergic reactions to European honeybee stings.

Allergies bee gone!

“Our technology is like adding a turbocharger to a car and in this case makes the bee allergy vaccine much more powerful, allowing the immune system to better neutralise the bee venom and prevent allergic symptoms,” says Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, the study’s corresponding author.

The thing that sets the team’s approach apart from other similar vaccines is a unique, sugar-based ingredient called an adjuvant. This compound was designed to help the patients’ organisms in neutralizing bee venom (the substance that causes allergic shock) more rapidly. The adjuvant itself has so far proven to be safe; Professor Petrovsky says it has been successfully given to over a thousand individuals across a range of different vaccines including in the current bee sting allergy trial with no ill effects.

Associate Professor Robert Heddle, lead investigator in the trial, says that this adjuvant (called Advax) was the actual subject of the study — the team wanted to see if it would safely help improve the speed and efficiency of the bee sting vaccine. Advax was developed in Adelaide by Vaxine Pty Ltd and has also been used to develop vaccines for seasonal and pandemic influenza, hepatitis, malaria, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer, among other diseases. The trial included 27 adults with a history of allergic reactions to bee stings.

“The results of the study were very promising and confirmed the safety of this approach to improving bee sting immunotherapy.”

There already is a commercially-available bee venom therapy on the market today, explains study co-author Dr Anthony Smith, but it requires patients to take around 50 injections over a 3-year period to slowly build immunity. It’s useful, but it can’t help somebody who’s experiencing an acute allergic response.

It “is lengthy and cumbersome, so I hope this enhanced bee venom therapy brings about faster, but longer lasting protection to bee stings for allergic individuals,” Smith adds.

The paper “Randomized controlled trial demonstrating the benefits of delta inulin adjuvanted immunotherapy in patients with bee venom allergy” has been published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.