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Lyme disease antidote may have been discovered by UMass scientist

Scientists call for human trials of drug that has helped prevent Lyme disease in mice.
Lyme Disease
Tick season is upon us. A new drug could prevent Lyme disease for six months with just a shot. Photo: ISTOCK

A tick might seem like a small thing, but a bacterial infection you can get from their bites is anything but.

Though there is no current vaccine against Lyme disease, a Massachusetts researcher may have found the key to a revolutionary drug that could prevent the debilitating infection — and he aims for human trials to begin as early as next year.

Dr. Mark Klempner, the executive vice chancellor for MassBiologics at UMass Medical School, has helped develop a shot which injects an antibody that he believes may help defend the human body against Lyme disease.

The injection “would provide immediate protection against Lyme disease and that protection would last for about six months, which is the risk period when the ticks that transmit Lyme disease are active,” he said in a statement.

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About 300,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with Lyme Disease each year. This summer, the threat has intensified — especially in the Northeast — and Massachusetts is expected to see its worst tick season on record.

Klempner brought his research to the Massachusetts State House last week for a briefing as part of his efforts to protect the public against the threat, which can cause lingering symptoms for years.

His medicine is not a vaccine, but could provide pre-exposure prevention, which is why he’s called it Lyme PrEP.

“In mice, our recent data has shown Lyme PrEP to be 100 percent effective at protecting the host against Lyme disease for up to six months,” Klempner said, according to a UMass Medical School release.

His strategy of administering a shot that targets an antibody to the infection is the same approach used to prevent one of the most severe forms of pneumonia, he said.

To continue to the next phase of research, a phase 1 clinical trial, it will cost about $3.24 million in funding, according to Klempner. From there, the timeline to approval of the drug is not too far off — within three years, according to UMass Medical, though the exact time depends on size of the following trials.

A vaccine against Lyme disease did exist at one time. Called LYMErix, it was approved by the FDA in 1998, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Within a year, multiple individuals reported adverse reactions after receiving the vaccination, most commonly the development of arthritis. A class action lawsuit was filed against the LYMErix manufacturer and the vaccine was pulled after four years on the market.

Democratic Rep. James M. Cantwell, who represents Marshfield, hosted the recent state house briefing and was himself infected with Lyme disease a few years ago.

“This is a public health issue that is a priority,” he said at the briefing, according to UMass Medical. “From a public policy standpoint, we have a need to find a way to fund this research.”

 
 
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