We're Not Far From a Lyme Disease Vaccine

As cases rise, Pfizer and Moderna focus attention on fighting tick-borne bacteria
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 25, 2023 8:53 AM CDT
We're Not Far From a Lyme Disease Vaccine
Robert Terwilliger, right, of Williamsburg, Pa., who is participating in a Lyme disease vaccine trial at the Altoona Center for Clinical Research, is injected with either the new vaccine or a placebo by registered nurse Janae Roland, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, in Duncansville, Pa.   (AP Photo/Gary M. Baranec)

There hasn't been a human vaccine for Lyme disease on the market in the US for 20 years, but that could change in as little as two years. Pfizer and Valneva have begun late-stage clinical trials on their vaccine candidate, VLA15, and say it could be ready for approval by the Food and Drug Administration as early as 2025, per Axios. According to the CDC, "VLA15 is a multivalent, protein subunit vaccine that targets the outer surface protein A (OspA)" of the Borrelia bacterium transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick and is designed to protect against "North American and European strains." Additionally, Moderna announced this month that it has two vaccine candidates in the works.

According to Forbes, "the effort marks the first time Moderna has applied its mRNA technology to bacterial threats." The proposed vaccines are intended to "target key species of the tick-borne bacteria responsible for most infections" in the US and Europe, where some 120,000 Lyme disease cases are reported each year, according to the outlet. Human trials on a single-shot human monoclonal antibody meant to provide seasonal protection against Lyme disease, developed at the University of Massachusetts, is also expected to begin soon, according to the CDC. Per AAMC News, the idea is that humans would deliver the antibody that neutralizes the bacterium that causes Lyme disease to ticks when bitten.

Some Americans may have been vaccinated with LYMERix from the former SmithKline Beecham, whose protection wanes over time. But the maker pulled the Lyme disease vaccine in 2002, citing low consumer demand. At the time, there were "reports of arthritis and other adverse events" as well as "anti-vaccine sentiment," Axios reports. "The public's perception of potential risks, heavily influenced by the negative press coverage and limited awareness of the benefits of the vaccine, decreased consumer demand," even though "the FDA found insufficient evidence to support a causal relationship between the reported adverse effects and the vaccine," according to a 2007 article in Epidemiology & Infection.

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People have become more aware of the risks of Lyme disease in recent years. Ticks have not only increased in abundance but "have been expanding their geographic ranges in recent decades largely due to climate change," resulting in "new and increasing severe public health threats to humans, livestock and companion animals in areas where they were previously unknown or were considered to be of minor importance," according to a 2018 article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. There are also efforts to develop new diagnostic techniques through the LymeX Diagnostics Prize. If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause serious complications to the heart, nervous system, and joints. (More Lyme disease stories.)

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