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Biotechnology company Moderna Therapeutics has launched the first phase of a clinical trial to evaluate its vaccine for Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), dosing the first study participant on Jan. 5. Currently, no effective vaccine exists to prevent EBV, the virus that some scientists believe could trigger multiple sclerosis (MS).

EBV is a known cause of mononucleosis, a disease that’s common among teens. In addition, scientists believe that EBV may be “the leading cause of MS,” according to a study published in January, which analyzed data from more than 10 million members of the U.S. military. After reviewing 20 years’ worth of medical records, the researchers found a 32-fold higher MS risk following infection with EBV.

Moderna is in the early stages of its Eclipse Trial, which is evaluating outcomes of the vaccine in healthy people between the ages of 18 and 30 years of age. The vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, the same platform that Moderna uses in its COVID-19 vaccines.

Moderna is not the only company evaluating EBV vaccines, and inoculations against Epstein-Barr have been in development for years. Moderna’s technology aims to boost the immune system to prevent infection with EBV.

“In addition to using the mRNA platform, this vaccine differs from other EBV vaccines in development because it incorporates four glycoproteins expressed on the virus’ external surface that are used by the virus to enter cells,” said Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, principal investigator for the study at UMass Chan Medical School, in a statement about the trial. “The goal is to raise robust immune responses to a broader range of proteins used by the virus for cell entry, in order to protect against infection and mononucleosis disease.”


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