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November 15, 2020

NIH funds development of novel Lyme disease vaccine

Published on October 28, 2020

The University of Maryland is leading an initiative supported by a $3.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a novel, next-generation Lyme disease vaccine.

The grant is funding the efforts of tick immunobiologist Utpal Pal, PhD, to adapt the rabies vaccination platform to stimulate production of antibodies against the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria responsible for Lyme disease.

Dr. Pal is a professor in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He is partnering with Matthias Schnell, PhD, director of Thomas Jefferson University’s Jefferson Vaccine Center, which is known for the study and application of the rabies virus as a platform for vaccination, according to an Oct. 2 statement from the University of Maryland.

“We are using the rabies virus as a delivery platform to send in some vaccine candidates for Borrelia,” Dr. Pal explained. “For rabies, we can produce an inactivated virus that helps the body produce the antibodies needed to fight it. Since we can produce the rabies vaccine and antibody proteins safely, why not have this virus produce other types of proteins that can do something else, like fight Borrelia?”

Although proven by Dr. Schnell and colleagues to be effective for other viral vaccinations, this approach has not yet been explored for Borrelia and other tick-borne diseases.

Using proteins that Dr. Pal’s laboratory previously identified as vaccine candidates, Dr. Pal and his team hope to combine these proteins with the rabies virus to deliver long-lasting, safe, and effective immunity. Their work will include testing the four candidate proteins, along with three major types of rabies vaccine platforms that could be effective for Lyme disease.