Lyme Vaccine 2.0?

Back in the late 1990s, SmithKline Beecham manufactured a vaccine against Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. In 2002, four years after introducing the vaccine to the market, the manufacturers withdrew the vaccine. It was a novel vaccine in that it attacked the bacteria in the gut of the ticks as the ticks fed on human blood. If the bacteria did enter the bloodstream, then the attack would continue.

The vaccine was withdrawn because too many people were reporting Lyme disease symptoms — mostly arthritis — after taking the vaccine. While there was never any direct evidence that it was the vaccine causing the arthritis, the manufacturer decided to withdraw the vaccine and avoid all the headaches that would come from taking the public relations hit or from litigation. However, experts agree that these reports of side effects were probably Lyme disease from ticks and not the vaccine because the vaccine was recommended for people living in Lyme disease “hot spots.” Furthermore, the rate of side effects was not higher than the background rate of the disease in the populations where the vaccine was given.

Here we are, almost 20 years later, and a new vaccine against Lyme disease is showing promise:

“Dr. Schutzer, who’s one of the authors, described an innovative strategy for developing a vaccine against Lyme. While it starts like most vaccines with an injection into an individual – who then develops antibodies to the Lyme bacterium – it actually works in both the human and the tick that carries the bug and transmits it to a victim with a bite.

“First it will K-O the bacterium inside the tick, further it will also stop the conveyor belt that gets the Lyme into you and finally, it will also block Lyme even once its inside the body,” Dr. Schutzer explained.

Dr. Mark Klempner of the UMass Medical School may be on the brink of just such a treatment. It’s called Lyme Prep and it’s proving extremely effective at preventing the disease in animals.

“We think that this is a really safe approach. In mice it is incredibly effective, 100 percent effective,”

The Lyme Prep injection provides immediate protection but it’s not a vaccine. Instead researchers have identified the specific antibody that kills the Lyme bacterium, so that even if you’re bitten by an infected tick, you wouldn’t get sick.

“We would intend to give this at the early part of the season Lyme disease season. The trick is to be able to make the antibody last long enough after a single injection that will cover the entire risk period of about six or seven months,” Dr. Klempner explained.”

Like the last vaccine, this vaccine/treatment is intended to be used in areas with high incidence of Lyme disease. So it is possible that the post-marketing problems that plagued the first vaccine will show up in this one. Hopefully, the researchers have devised a plan to do post-marketing surveillance in a way that accounts for the background rate of Lyme disease.

Author: René F. Najera, DrPH

I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, an online project by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. All opinions expressed on these blog posts are not necessarily those of the College or any of my employers. Check out my professional profile on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/renenajera Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen

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