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Acne vaccine shows promise in early research

Findings from animal model research show promising results for an acne vaccine that targets a pro-inflammatory variant of hyaluronidase produced by C. acnes.

The findings were published in Nature Communications (Dec. 5, 2023; 14:8061).

“We’re working to develop a therapy that’s much more tailored toward exactly what we know causes acne, rather than just generically blocking inflammation,” said a senior author on the paper, George Y. Liu, MD, PhD, in a press release. “We hope that by understanding how bacteria induce acne, we can come up with a single or combination vaccine that would take care of acne much more effectively than we can right now.”

Dr. Liu is Professor and Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

This research began with an attempt to answer the longstanding question: If we all have the acne-associated bacteria C. acnes on the surface of our skin, then why do only some people develop acne?

The paper details how investigators identified two variants of hyaluronidase, an enzyme produced by C. acnes. One variant, HylA, is strictly made by C. acnes that are associated with acne. The other variant, HylB is made by C. acnes associated with healthy skin.

In examining the structural and genetic differences between the two forms of the enzyme, the team found that while HylA worsens acne by causing inflammation, HylB appears to reduce inflammation and promote healthy skin. Their work further revealed that HylA and HylB originated from a common ancestor but evolved to have divergent effects.

The research team found that HylA produces larger fragments of hyaluronic acid—leading to a more robust inflammatory response—while HylB produces smaller, anti-inflammatory fragments.

When the researchers removed the hyaluronidase genetically from both health- and acne-associated C. acnes, the bacteria became similarly non-inflammatory.

Based on this newfound knowledge, said Dr. Liu, the team then developed therapeutic approaches, including a vaccine and inhibitors, that targeted HylA and successfully reduced inflammation.

According to the release, the research team is encouraged by this preliminary success and hopes to create a product that could be life-changing for many individuals who experience acne or are at risk of developing it.

“Our anti-acne directed approach has the potential to revolutionize acne therapies by offering more targeted treatments,” said Irshad Hajam, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Liu Lab and one of the paper’s lead authors. “What is truly remarkable about this work is we can now have more directed and effective anti-acne therapies while preserving the healthy skin microbiome, and that is a significant advancement in acne therapy.”

This study received funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.


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