The pill to prevent Lyme disease kills ticks before they can infect you

A pill to prevent Lyme disease is showing promise in clinical trials, suggesting there may soon be a new way to avoid contracting it and other tick-borne diseases.

The challenge: If you enjoy hiking, camping, or any other type of woodsy activity, you’ve probably been warned to watch out for ticks—tiny, blood-sucking parasites that can transmit Lyme disease and other infections to people and animals through normally painless bites.

To protect your pet, you can make sure they get a Lyme disease vaccine and give them a preventative medication that quickly kills ticks that bite them (usually a tick should be attached for at least 36-48 hours to transmit the disease).

There is currently a great need for better options to prevent tick-borne diseases.

You don’t have nearly as many ways to protect yourself of tick-borne diseases, however.

There used to be a Lyme disease vaccine for people, but it was discontinued in 2002 due to low demand, and even if you got the vaccine before then, the protection is likely to have disappeared. Although other Lyme disease vaccines show promise in trials, none have yet been approved.

You can spray your clothes with bug repellant and tuck your pants into your socks, but if a tick bites you, the only hope of preventing disease is to find and remove the parasite before it can make you sick, and with climate change that expands the regions. where ticks can thrive, there is currently a great need for better options.

NASA Earth Observatory / Lauren Dauphin / Kotchi, Serge, et al. (2021)

The risk of encountering Lyme disease carried by deer ticks increases with age.

What’s new? Tarsus Pharmaceuticals hopes TP-05, a pill designed to prevent Lyme disease by killing attached ticks before they can spread the disease, is the best option.

The company recently shared first-line data from a phase 2a trial of the drug, called lotilaner, during which 31 healthy volunteers received a high dose of TP-05, a low dose or a placebo. On the same day, a sterile, non-pathogenic tick was allowed to bite them.

The researchers then checked how many of the ticks were still alive 24 hours later and found that the average survival rate was 95% in the placebo group, but only 3% and 7% in the high-dose and down, respectively.

“TP-05 may have the potential to provide rapid and long-lasting protection against multiple tick-borne diseases.”

Linden Hu

To test how long the drug could prevent Lyme disease, volunteers were allowed to re-bite 30 days after dosing. This time, the median 24-hour survival rates were 91% in the placebo group, 11% in the high-dose group, and 9% in the low-dose group.

According to Tarsus, the difference in the two treatment arms was not significant and both doses were well tolerated.

“The tick death rates observed at day 1 and day 30 suggest that TP-05 may have the potential to provide rapid and long-lasting protection against multiple tick-borne diseases,” said Linden Hu, the principal investigator at the essay

If the drug is effective and long-lasting, it could be taken just a couple of times a year to prevent Lyme disease, which is highly seasonal, peaking in the summer months when ticks thrive and people head ​​​​​​​in the open air.

Bar graph showing monthly distribution of Lyme disease cases


Lyme disease infections spike in the summer.

looking ahead: Larger trials are needed to show that TP-05 can quickly kill ticks that bite people, and to determine exactly how long the protection lasts: Medicines to prevent Lyme disease in pets usually have to be given every few months.

However, if Tarsus’ drug works as expected, it could finally offer people a way to protect themselves against Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses that doesn’t involve slathering on bug repellants and hope they detect any attached ticks in time.

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