The Phase I clinical trial of Nexvax2 vaccine has shown positive results for the treatment of coeliac disease, an autoimmune condition caused by a reaction to the gluten found in wheat, rye and barley.

Immune cells react to gluten and trigger a response that damages the lining of the small intestine and inhibits its ability to absorb nutrients from food.

The study, conducted in Melbourne in Australia, demonstrated the effect of weekly injections of Nexvax2 over three weeks, in coeliac patients on a strict gluten-free diet.

The results indicate that the vaccine desensitised patients to the three peptides in gluten that are regarded as toxic to those with the disease.

Dr Bob Anderson of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s Immunology division — who identified the peptides — said that the researchers expected the vaccine to enter Phase II trials within the next ten months.

He added that they hoped “to demonstrate a reduction in the body’s rejection of dietary gluten so patients can resume a normal diet and return to good health”.