Herpes Research by Dr. Keith Jerome

In this video, Dr. Keith Jerome discusses some of the latest research on herpes and the push for a herpes vaccine.

Below you will find the transcript of the video.

Video Transcript

I am Keith Jerome from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, and I’ve been asked by several folks to record another message for National Herpes Awareness Day.

I am happy to say that the past year has seen a lot of progress in our fight against herpes, and I want to take just a couple of minutes to go over some of the things that I’m most excited about.

One thing that’s really exciting is that I think the efforts toward a herpes vaccine are actually getting some traction. And part of that is from the lessons we’ve learned from COVID; we’re combining all those lessons with what we’ve learned over decades regarding the biology of HSV to, I think, make a new generation of vaccines that have a much better chance of really affecting the virus.

It’s not going to be easy. Herpes is a much more difficult virus than COVID to make a vaccine for, but there will be some clinical trials over the next year or two, and I personally am really excited to look for the results as those come out.

Our own work is toward a cure for herpes — so not to make a vaccine that will control it better, but actually cure people already infected with the virus. And we do that through gene editing. These are proteins that we introduce into the nerves where herpes hides for decades, and these proteins go in and they cut herpes up into little pieces that the body can get rid of.

Over the last year, we’ve extended our studies in mice to not just look at infections around the face, but now to look at genital infections. And I’m really happy to say that the treatment works even better there than it did around the face. We’re getting rid of, on average, about 97% of the virus from the nerves that innervate the region around the genitals of mice.

And what’s really exciting is that this reduction within the nerves also reduces the amount of virus that can go back out to the skin — we call that shedding. And many, many animals don’t shed at all after we’ve treated them. And the ones that do shed shed much, much less virus than they did before we treated them, or than untreated animals do.

This shedding, this virus that goes back out to the skin, is how the virus transmits from one person to another, and it’s what causes lesions and other things that people have trouble with. So I’m really excited that it shows that our therapy is likely to really have clinical benefit when we can get it into people.

So we’re really excited. We’re continuing to work toward the safety data we need to get approval for that first clinical trial, and I can’t wait until I can come on here and record a message that says that’s about to start.

If you saw my message last year, one thing that I said was this fight against herpes is not just for those of us in the lab, it’s something we actually need to do together. The scientists in the lab, we’re there, we’re working and we’re doing our part every day, but I really wanted to encourage you guys to make your voices heard, whether that’s to the government, to pharma companies, to say, we want better treatments, we want a vaccine, we want a cure, because herpes has been a largely forgotten infection for way too many years, not much work.

But I’m really happy to say that this year has been a breakthrough year. In about a month, in early November, there’s going to be a meeting in Washington, D.C. between the NIH, the National Institutes of Health, the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, as well as leading scientists in the field. And it’s just going to be everything about herpes infection.

So the government is actually looking at this infection finally in a very serious way. We’ll talk about screening. We’ll talk about diagnosis, we’ll talk about vaccines and we’ll talk about a cure. So I just want to say to the people in the community and the advocates who made this happen, congratulations. It’s a huge win.

So to close, I’ll say what I always do for those of us in my group and in the lab, we won’t stop in our efforts to find a cure for herpes infections. We’re in this for the long run. I want to say to you guys, though, in the community, don’t stop either. Keep making your voices heard because great things will happen when we all pull together.

So with that, I’ll end. Once again, thank you so much. And together, let’s put an end to herpes once and for all.

Here's what to do next...

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