Lyme disease shot to be tested next year

WBUR Boston reports on new hope against a nasty tick-borne ailment, now that Massachusetts researchers are developing an injection against Lyme disease:

In their latest update, the researchers say work on manufacturing the anti-Lyme antibodies has gone well, and they expect to begin testing the safety of the shot in humans by mid-2020.

If you’re a fellow Lymelands dweller eager to volunteer, sorry. Dr. Mark Klempner, who leads MassBiologics, the publicly funded non-profit developing the injection, says the trial needs to be done in an area free of Lyme disease, so that it will be clear that antibodies in the blood come from the injection and not from previous exposure.

MassBiologics is celebrating its 125th anniversary, including its storied history of making critical vaccines against diseases like diphtheria using serum from horses. The Lyme antibody, though, will involve no horses; it is made “in a steel tank, from cells,” Klempner says.

It’s not the only effort under way to protect against Lyme disease; a French company is testing a new vaccine in humans; it could become available in four or five years.

In the United States, Lyme disease vaccines are only available for dogs. But the MassBiologics effort is marching forward, backed by nearly $2 million in federal and state money. Klempner says one key goal is for the shot to be affordable when it becomes available, possibly as early as 2023 if all goes well.

The shot is known as “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” not a vaccine, because 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 trial will look at safety and dosing in about 50 volunteers who will receive escalating doses. A later trial would look at how well the antibodies actually work against Lyme disease.

The volunteers will have to be followed for more than six months, to monitor whether the antibody levels in their blood are high enough to be effective. In animals, Klempner says, “it is both safe, and it lasts.”

If “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” or PrEP, sounds familiar, that’s because it’s now being used against HIV, with enough success that some are talking about it as the potential key to ending the spread of AIDS.