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A Lyme vaccine for humans is getting closer, says French biotech firm

  • 2002 file photo shows a deer tick under a microscope in the entomology lab at the University of Rhode Island .(AP Photo/Victoria Arocho, File)



Monitor staff
Sunday, June 10, 2018

If there’s one medical product people in New Hampshire would love to see, it’s a human Lyme disease vaccine, which is why the news that a French firm’s effort has passed the first set of trials is generating interest.

“Name the date & time and I will camp out (in) line for shots like it’s a new Star Wars movie,” wrote Matt Southerton of Barnstead on Twitter, in response to a Granite Geek post about the vaccine’s progress.

A French biotech company called Valneva recently announced that its Lyme vaccine has passed Phase I trials, in which a medicine under development is given to a small group of people for initial safety and effectiveness testing.

Valneva said no serious adverse events and no cases of arthritis were observed. The latter is important because a former human vaccine for Lyme produced by GlaxoSmithKline was pulled from the market in 2002 because of an alleged connection to arthritis, leaving only Lyme vaccines for dogs on the market.

Valneva said it would start Phase II testing this summer in Lyme-endemic regions of both the U.S. and Europe, covering more people including some who were previously infected with the bacterium. It has not yet set up a system to seek volunteers.

If it passes Phase II tests, then widespread testing, known as Phase III, will be necessary before the vaccine could be marketed.

The FDA has marked this vaccine for fast-tracking, which might shorten development time. But even so, bringing a vaccine to market isn’t cheap. Valneva said it is likely to cost another $350 million to develop and produce a vaccine, although it estimates that the eventual market is at least twice as big.

Lyme is the most common tick-borne disease in the Northern Hemisphere, with about 300,000 cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention each year and another 200,000 seen in Europe.

Even if an effective and cheap Lyme vaccine is developed, however, ticks will still be a major health problem in New Hampshire. The black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, which carries Lyme disease, can also give people anaplasmosis, babesiosis or Powassan virus, all of which are already in New Hampshire. Other tick diseases, including ehrlichiosis, tularemia and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, are moving north as the climate changes.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)