PrEP for Lyme?

MassBiologics tests a new way to stave off a Bay State scourge.

massbiologics lyme disease

Photograph courtesy of Dr_relling/Flickr

It’s the time of year when very rational fears of speck-size arachnids teeming with Lyme disease have us conducting TSA-style body inspections after hikes in the woods. With nearly 4,000 cases in 2013, Massachusetts consistently ranks among the hardest-hit states for Lyme, which leaves its victims with long-lasting pain, fatigue, and a host of other serious ailments.

Although a Lyme vaccine was developed decades ago, first-wave anti-vaxxers and busted business models rendered it inaccessible to humans. But MassBiologics—UMass’s nonprofit, FDA-licensed vaccine-manufacturing center in Mattapan—might have a new weapon against the disease. Executive vice chancellor Mark Klempner explains that the lab is working on a preventive approach, similar to anti-malarial methods, in which people get seasonal injections of human antibodies that would protect them against Lyme for about six months—the period when Lyme-transmitting ticks are active.

Known as Pre-Exposure -Prophylaxis, or PrEP, this method has proven successful in fighting one of the most severe forms of pneumonia in premature infants. It’s also been approved to help prevent HIV infection, a regimen pioneered by Boston’s own Fenway Health. MassBiologics’ antibody looks promising: It has successfully annihilated Lyme disease bacteria in test tubes, and protected mice that were exposed to multiple ticks carrying the Lyme bacteria. Next up is human testing, which Klempner expects to begin within the coming year. For now, it’s still best to keep a magnifying glass and long-sleeved T nearby.