acne vaccine

Significant progress has been made in developing an acne vaccine. The acne vaccine targets a type of bacteria living on our skin and stops it from producing toxins that cause inflammation.

Who has not had a pimple at some point in their life? As one of the most common skin conditions, acne affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide. With current treatments often falling short of expectations, acne can often cause severe discomfort and affect many individuals’ quality of life. Despite not being a life-threatening disease, acne can take a significant psychological toll. However, scientists in San Diego, California are working to develop an acne vaccine which has the potential to change lives.

Cutibacterium acnes, or formerly known as Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) is the bacteria linked to acne. Acne is a skin condition characterized by red pimples due to the occurrence of inflamed or infected glands in the skin from overgrowth of this bacteria. It affects more than 40 million people in the United States and more than 85% of teenagers.

Current therapies are usually inadequate or difficult to tolerate

Treating acne can be difficult and currently available therapies are typically inadequate or difficult to tolerate. Ranging from topical treatments to antibiotics and retinoids, even the best acne treatments do not work for everyone. Current medications can cause significant side effects such as skin dryness and irritation, depression and an increased rate of birth defects. Therefore, the potential of a new acne vaccine to replace these inadequate treatments is exciting for many.

Researchers in California, United States recently published a new study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology that looked at whether this new acne vaccine works in human skin lesions. The vaccine targets P. acnes, the bacteria that live on human skin and is involved in causing pimples.

CAMP protein: The ideal target for an acne vaccine

The researchers first showed that a toxic protein called CAMP secreted by P. acnes is involved in acne by inducing an inflammatory response and causing skin inflammation. Therefore, making the CAMP factor an ideal target for an acne vaccine.

The next step was to look at whether the potential acne vaccine could inhibit inflammation in mice. The acne vaccine worked by sending antibodies to combat the CAMP factor and neutralize it. The results showed mice which were injected with the acne vaccine had reduced growth of P. acnes and the vaccine appeared to offer protection against the CAMP factor.

The researchers then trialled the effectiveness of the acne vaccine in ex vivo human skin cells (skin samples taken from patient’s acne lesions). In the human skin samples taken from acne lesions, the CAMP factor was expressed at significantly higher levels compared to human skin samples without acne lesions. The findings showed that after incubating the skin cells taken from acne lesions with the acne vaccine, there was a decrease in the number of proteins known to be involved in the inflammatory response. Indicating the acne vaccine may also work on humans as well.

Large trial needed to validate the effectiveness and safety of the possible acne vaccine

These findings showed that P. acnes CAMP factor is significantly involved in inducing an inflammatory response making it an ideal target for reducing inflammation in acne. Therefore, the development of a CAMP factor-targeted acne vaccine provides an appealing approach to treat and prevent acne. This is significant as it is the first treatment that targets bacteria naturally found on human skin instead of introduced pathogens and dirt which irritate pores causing acne.

The next steps in the development of this acne vaccine would be to validate its effectiveness and safety in a large-scale clinical trial. Although, the researchers note that the acne vaccine is still in its early days and there is still a long way to go before it becomes available.

Written by Lacey Hizartzidis, PhD


  1. Wang Y, Hata TR, Tong YL, et al. The anti-inflammatory activities of Propionibacterium acnes CAMP factor-targeted acne vaccines. J Invest Dermatol. 2018:1-10. doi:10.1016/j.jid.2018.05.032.
  2. On the horizon: An acne vaccine. Elsevier website, Accessed September 7th, 2018.
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