New Lyme disease vaccine being researched at MassBiologics

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A new preventative vaccine for Lyme disease is being worked upon that could provide protection to people for about six months—the period when Lyme-transmitting ticks are active.

Being developed by researchers at MassBiologics – UMass’s nonprofit, FDA-licensed vaccine-manufacturing center in Mattapan – the method on which the new weapon against Lyme disease will be based is called Pre-Exposure -Prophylaxis, or PrEP.

PrEP has already proven its worth against most severe forms of pneumonia in premature infants and has also been approved to help prevent HIV infection. According to MassBiologics, its new antibody is promising for it has successfully killed off Lyme disease bacteria in test tubes, and has shown promising results in mouse model tests as well.

“In our strategy, individuals would receive an injection in the spring of a single human monoclonal antibody targeting a protein on the surface of the bacteria that would provide immediate protection against Lyme disease” said Executive vice chancellor Mark Klempner. “And that protection would last six months, which is the risk period when the ticks that transmit Lyme disease are active.”

MassBiologics is now aiming for human testing, which Klempner expects to begin within the coming year. While the nonprofit is hoping for the human trials to be successful, it isn’t removing its research hat yet.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks. In the early stages of the disease, many people go on to develop a distinctive circular rash at the site of the tick bite – about 3 to 30 days after being bitten. People have also shown flu-like symptoms in the early stages, such as tiredness, muscle pain, joint pain, headaches, fever, chills and neck stiffness.

There are instances when people end up developing serious symptoms over the course of several weeks, months or even years if the Lyme disease is left untreated. If that’s the case, people suffer from pain and swelling of the joints, numbness and pain in the limbs, facial paralysis, memory problems and even difficulty concentrating.

Previous studies have shown that Lyme disease could also lead to a range of heart problems like myocarditis, where the heart muscle becomes inflamed and heart failure. Meningitis is also a risk. A few people may also develop long-term symptoms similar to those of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, called post-infectious Lyme disease.