There’s a new vaccine for cat allergies

Roughly 1 in 10 people in the United States are allergic to cats. Despite exposure to cats resulting in symptoms including coughing, sneezing, wheezing, stuffy noses, and rashes in this part of our population, the desire to be around cats and to keep cats as pets does not seem to be on the decline. A Swiss company called HypoPet has therefore developed Hypocat, a vaccine to help people who are allergic to cats to live more comfortably in their company.

Interestingly, unlike most vaccines that we benefit from, for Hypocat to help us, we do not have to come into contact with the vaccine. Instead, the vaccine is administered to cats to help neutralize the problematic allergen that affects humans.

People often blame the fur on cats for their allergies, but the actual culprit is a protein - called Fel D 1 - that can be found in cats’ saliva and skin secretions. It is not wrong, however, to think of cat fur as problematic. Because cats tend to lick themselves frequently, Fel D 1 gets on their fur, making exposure to the fur potentially as threatening to cat allergy sufferers as exposure to a cat’s tongue.

The new vaccine works by producing high levels of antibodies to Fel D 1 in cats so that these antibodies bind to and neutralize the protein before people can be exposed to it. This process is akin to making cats hypoallergenic. New clinical trial data on the vaccine was recently published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

In the series of studies, cats received 3 doses of vaccines through hind leg injections over a 9 week period. Researchers found that cats tolerated the injections well and did not experience any adverse side effects. They also found that these cats showed increased levels of antibodies to Fel D 1 and that the antibodies effectively neutralized Fel D 1 activity, resulting in lower levels of the problematic protein in the cat’s saliva and tears.

Importantly, when samples from the cats were mixed with blood from people who suffer from cat allergies, fewer reactions indicative of allergies occurred. These observations are promising when we consider how people may be affected by cats who have been vaccinated. They suggest that when around cats who have received the vaccine, cat allergy sufferers will be exposed to lower levels of Fel D 1 and therefore experience less of the immune response that leads to allergy symptoms.

Dr. Summit Shah

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