A Lyme disease vaccine doesn’t exist, but a yearly antibody shot shows promise at preventing infection

Read the full story at The Conversation.

Lyme disease has become an insidious epidemic in the United States. Caused by bacteria transmitted by an infected tick bite, symptoms can include arthritis, cardiac and neurological problems if left untreated. It is the most common tick-borne illness in the United States, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that around 300,000 people likely contract the disease each year.

Scientists, doctors and ecologists have worked for decades to slow the spread of Lyme and the blacklegged, or deer, ticks that carry the disease-causing bacteria. However, the ticks’ range continues to expand. Today, over 50% of the American population lives in an area where these ticks are found.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine against Lyme in 1998, but it was met by controversy and pulled from the market three years later. Efforts continue today to create a human vaccine as well as stop the spread of Lyme by other means, including using gene-editing to immunize mice that can transmit the bacteria to ticks, killing deer and using pesticides to control ticks.

My colleagues and I have been working on a different kind of prevention: a yearly injection. I am an infectious diseases physician-scientist and have been studying and working toward preventing Lyme disease for much of my career. I also oversee UMass Medical School’s MassBiologics, the only nonprofit, FDA-licensed manufacturer of vaccines and biologics in the United States.

Our method, known as Lyme PrEP, delivers a single anti-Lyme antibody directly to a person rather than triggering the patient’s own immune system to make many antibodies as vaccines do. It is designed to be a seasonal shot that people can get once a year before tick season begins. We have published several peer-reviewed articles on this methodology, including its success in mice and nonhuman primates. Later this year, we are scheduled to begin our first human phase 1 trial.

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