“For myself and the thousands of people your research efforts may someday impact I want to thank you and wish you the best.” J., CMV patient

As a busy Director of both the CNPRC and the Center for Comparative Medicine, Dr. Peter Barry makes time in his hectic schedule to maintain an active research program in cytomegalovirus (CMV). He recently took time to make a personal connection with an individual from the public that has first-hand experience with CMV and is looking to us to speed the discovery of a vaccine and treatment to human trials and general use in human medicine. Following is Barry’s thoughtful response to this urgent request, October 9, 2014.

“I am writing you regarding your inquiry regarding the Cytomegalovirus (CMV) vaccine research article. I was the lead scientist on the study described in this article, and I want to personally update you on the current status of the research, particularly in light of your having had the extremely unfortunate experience of suffering from CMV disease. The article describes ongoing research by my lab in developing a vaccine that can prevent both CMV infection and CMV disease.

By way of background, intensive efforts to develop a vaccine against CMV have been ongoing for more than 40 years. The clinical consequences of CMV infection and disease in at-risk individuals were first recognized more than 100 years ago, and CMV has long-been recognized as a significant infectious threat in particular groups of individuals, notably in immunosuppressed transplant recipients and fetuses who acquire virus from their mother during pregnancy. In addition, CMV can occasionally cause disease in individuals apart from these groups, such as yourself. While scientists have been highly successful in developing vaccines against many viruses and bacteria that have long plagued humankind (polio, smallpox, measles, diphtheria, pertussis, to name a few), other infectious agents present major challenges, including CMV. Other challenges include developing vaccines for tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV. Despite some of the best minds in the world working on these pathogens, we are not yet at the point where these pathogens can recede into the history books.

The CMV vaccine effort described in the article is work from my lab in which we are trying to develop a completely novel vaccine against CMV by targeting what we believe is an especially vulnerable part of the virus. The work is experimental at this point. While we have made great progress in our animal models, we still need to conduct more experiments in animals before we advance the studies to human clinical trials. While the progress may seem frustratingly slow to you and others who know from first-hand experience the pain and consequences of CMV disease, I want to assure you that we are working as hard and as fast as we can. Our goal is to get it right. The costs and challenges in conducting human clinical trials are enormous, and our goal is to demonstrate in our animal models that we can eliminate as many unknowns before we advance the work to people.

I also want to emphasize that our research is an example of Americans’ taxes and donations at work. My research, and that of almost all researchers in the US, is funded through grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health, which is allocated money through the budgetary process of Congressional allocation and the signature of the President. We take this fiduciary responsibility very seriously, and I can speak for the countless other researchers across the country when I assure you that we are absolutely committed to the mission of using these funds in the most cost-effective and efficient manner to advance human health and well-being.

I am not a clinician, and therefore, not in a position to address specific medical issues related to your disease or the potential for CMV activation. As a basic scientist, however, I can tell you that, in general, CMV infection stimulates the immune system to develop long-term immune responses that prevent CMV disease in the future. While this is not necessarily a guarantee for you, there are many clinicians and scientists working diligently so that you and others never have to experience CMV again.

I wish you all the very best, and please feel free to ask questions. If I don’t have an answer, I will find someone who does.

Sincerely, Peter Barry”

Eberhardt MK, Deshpande A, Chang WL, Barthold SW, Walter MR, Barry PA. Vaccination against a virus-encoded cytokine significantly restricts viral challenge. J Virol. 2013 Nov;87(21):11323-31

Link to Dr. Barry’s webpage.