A promising new vaccination that is designed to prevent heart attacks is currently being developed by Austrian biotech company, AFFiRis.

The research has shown that the injection can be targeted towards the immune system to lower cholesterol by stopping fatty deposits from clogging the arteries and reducing the risk of heart disease.

The vaccine, known as AT04A, triggers the production of antibodies that target an enzyme called PCSK9, involved in the regulation of blood cholesterol levels. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is a form of cholesterol that is largely responsible for the blockage of arteries and PCSK9 has proven to successfully impede the clearance of these cholesterols from the blood. Additionally, AT041 uses the immune system to fight one of the body’s own proteins which is different to the conventional vaccine that targets foreign invaders, i.e. bacteria and viruses.

The results published in the European Heart Journal, showed that 53% of total blood cholesterol was lowered in mice that have been fed an unhealthy western-style fatty diet. With comparison to unvaccinated mice, the vaccinated mice showed a significant reduction of 64% in the build-up of hard fibrous deposits on the walls of the arteries, and a reduction of 28% in biological markers of blood vessel inflammation.

Researcher and chief technology officer at AFFiRis, Dr Gunther Staffler, highlights the prospect of a yearly vaccine jab that could keep cholesterol levels under control in at-risk patients.

“If these findings translate successfully into humans, this could mean that, as the induced antibodies persist for months after a vaccination, we could develop a long-lasting therapy that, after the first vaccination, just needs an annual booster. This would result in an effective and more convenient treatment for patients, as well as higher patient compliance.”

Despite the study’s success, the vaccine has yet to be tested in humans. The phase one trial testing of the safety and activity of the vaccine launched in 2015 is still ongoing, with 72 healthy patients involved, the trial is expected to complete at the end of this year.