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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Lyme Disease Prevention Drug In Development At UMass Medical School

As the incidence of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses rises, we're talking about the growing risk and what may happen next.
Erik Karits
A new drug called Lyme PReP is being developed at UMass Medical School with the hope of preventing people from contracting Lyme disease from ticks.

A group of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School are hoping to make Lyme disease in humans a thing of the past. They are working on an antibody drug that would prevent people from contracting the tick-borne disease.

The drug is called Lyme PReP, which stands for "pre-exposure prophylaxis."

"What that means basically is that we want to give you a medicine that will prevent you from acquiring Lyme disease before you're actually exposed," explained Dr. Mark Klempner, a professor of medicine at UMass Medical School, to Vermont Editionon Wednesday.

Lyme PReP is not a vaccine, and as such works differently. Klempner says his research team has determined the specific antibody to protect a person from Lyme disease, which then can be isolated and administered.

As long as that antibody is in a person's system, Klempner explains, it would provide the desired protection. But since it wouldn't stay in someone's system permanently, the treatment would need to be re-administered periodically.

"We're trying to match the period of protection with the period of risk," Klempner says. "And we know that most of the risk is for that period from say, March or April into November ... We would design this so that the antibody would reach and maintain a therapeutic or preventative level for six months, then it would disappear, and then the next season you would get a new shot."

"We would design this so that the antibody would reach and maintain a therapeutic or preventative level for six months, then it would disappear, and then the next season you would get a new shot." – UMass Medical School professor Dr. Mark Klempner

A Lyme disease vaccine did actually exist around the early 2000s, Klempner explains, but it was then removed from the market over concerns about side effects.  Klempner says such concerns weren't substantiated, but the aftermath from that situation did play into the strategy of developing Lyme PReP.

"There's been some resistance to bringing that vaccine back or developing another vaccine, and that is precisely the reason why we've gone to this method of giving the antibody itself," Klempner says.

Lyme PReP isn't available yet, but Klempner says the planned next steps would bring them closer to that goal.

"It takes time and resources to be able to develop a medicine and we're right at that point of being able to manufacture it for human use and then to test it initially for safety in people," Klempner says. "So that's our hope. We need some partners to be able to do that, to fund that ... Really our job now is to find collaborators to help us push this forward and get it out to the public."

Listen to the full interview above. Broadcast live on Wednesday, June 7, 2017 during the noon hour; rebroadcast during the 7 p.m. hour.

Ric was a producer for Vermont Edition and host of the VPR Cafe.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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