Acambis has begun assessing the potential of a herpes vaccine it licensed from the USA’s Harvard University in preclinical trials, under plans to submit an Investigational New Drug application next year.

The UK group holds an exclusive global licence to the vaccine, which is based on the herpes simplex virus 2 strain from which two genes have been deleted to prevent it from replicating.

The vaccine has already shown promise in preclinical trials carried out by scientists at the University, including its ability to induce a strong response and reduce the severity of recurrent disease.

The HSV-1 strain causes oral ulcers while the HSV-2 strain causes genital herpes, which is one of the most widespread sexually transmitted infections in the world, with already 40-60 million American infected alone, according to the World Health Organisation.

Once HSV is contracted the infection is lifelong and, so far, no vaccines to protect against the virus have made it to the market, with treatment currently focused on anti-viral medications. Therefore, the introduction of an effective vaccine against HSV could prove to be fairly lucrative for Acambis, given that the cost of herpes infections to the US healthcare system is predicted to hit $2.5 billion by 2015, according to the firm.