Could vaccine threaten gluten-free bakery?

22 October, 2012
Page 4 

The gluten-free bakery market of the future could be under threat from a new vaccine, currently being developed to combat coeliac disease.

Nexvax2, which has just entered clinical trials in New Zealand, Australia and the US, has been developed by American biotechnology company ImmusanT, and is the first therapeutic vaccine for people with coeliac disease. It has been designed to "dramatically reduce the body's immune response to dietary gluten", which would then allow them to return to a normal diet, according to the firm.

Sarah Sleet, chief executive of Coeliac UK, the national charity for people with coeliac disease, told British Baker it provided research funding in the early stages of the vaccine's development, in 2005. "The idea was that if you identify the most toxic elements (of the gluten proteins), you could either develop a vaccine or even breed these bits out of wheat," she said. Sleet added that, at the moment, a strict gluten-free diet for life is the only treatment for coeliac disease: "The vaccine has the potential to make a huge difference, though it is likely to take 10 to 15 years before it could become available."

The gluten-free market has grown hugely over recent years and is set to be worth £234m by 2014, according to recent statistics from Datamonitor up from £143m in 2009. However, bakers are not yet worried that this vaccine will necessarily be bad for business. Cake-maker Chris Tuttiett said it would not matter as his wheat and gluten-free cakes were more popular than the wheat-based ones.

Shellie Tungleland, cake designer at Shellie's Sugarcraft, said that as a sufferer of gluten intolerance, it would be nice to see the vaccine become available, but "as a cake-maker, I don't think it would affect my business", adding that the key to business survival was adapting to changing consumer demands.

Gluten-free bakery firm Genius said that, as a potential roll-out of the vaccine was still a long way off, it could not comment at this time.

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