If you have an aversion to ticks and a fear of Lyme disease, know that you could soon be figuratively out of the woods—and literally back in them. That’s because there’s a shot being tested that will, if it works, prevent people from getting Lyme disease.
A report from WBUR-FM in Boston tells of MassBiologics, the nonprofit unit of UMass Medical School, that is developing an injection that might make Lyme disease a thing of the past.
The shot is not a vaccine, but rather, a “pre-exposure prophylaxis” or PrEP dose. As WBUR explained, “It delivers anti-Lyme antibodies directly to the patient rather than triggering the patient’s own immune system to make the antibodies as vaccines do.”
The state of Massachusetts invested $1 million in the project in 2019, according to Worcester publication The Telegram. At the time, Dr. Mark Klempner from the MassBiologics division of UMass Medical School said, “It’s really based on some very simple notion that the bacteria, before it comes to you, is stuck in the gut of the tick.”
Noting that the bacteria must make a complex trip through the tick before it can infect a human, he added, “Our approach is to take advantage of this very complicated pathway for the bacteria to get out of the tick and into you.”
He described the PrEP treatment as “a medicine that will circulate in you that when the tick drinks it, the blood will contain something that will kill the bacteria in the midgut or for sure prevent it from getting out of the gut so that none of this can happen.”
Research has progressed to where the shot got federal approval at the end of 2020 for to begin human testing. Klempner confirmed that phase one clinical trial, with about 66 subjects began last week.
The trials are taking place in Lincoln, Nebraska. That location was chosen because there’s so little Lyme disease in that location, so that if and when trial participants have antibodies against Lyme disease detected, researchers can be sure it came from the shot and not from a previous infection.
While testing will last through the rest of the year, it’s on course (barring further complications) to be available by 2023.
That will help combat a disease that the CDC estimates it may infect nearly a half million Americans each year, with cases on the rise in the Northeast and Midwest especially.
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