A Pill That Kills Ticks Is on the Horizon

A medication that kills ticks attached to the body shows promise as an effective Lyme disease prevention.

Nearly half a million Americans are treated for Lyme disease every year. Although many of them receive treatments preemptively, the condition, if not caught early, can be debilitating and cause long-term complications, including nerve damage and neurological problems.

TP-05 (lotilaner), a new medication developed by Tarsus, a California-based biopharmaceutical company, may revolutionize the prevention of Lyme disease by killing ticks before they transmit the infection to humans.

In the phase 2a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, sterile, non-pathogenic ticks at the nymphal stage were placed on the skin of healthy human volunteers in two separate instances — one day before taking TP-05 and 30 days after.

Tick mortality was evaluated within 24 hours of attachment after each placement. It usually takes 36-48 hours or more for an attached tick to transmit bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Therefore, killing a tick within 24 hours of attachment can significantly improve disease prevention.

After the Day 1 tick challenge, the high dose of the drug killed 97% of ticks on average, with the low dose leading to 92% tick mortality, compared to 5% of placebo.

Similar effectiveness was observed at the 30-day challenge — 89% and 91% average tick mortality for the high and low doses, respectively, compared to 9% for placebo.

TP-05 was generally well tolerated, and no statistically significant differences in tick mortality were observed between the two TP-05 treatment arms.

"We are highly encouraged by these early proof-of-concept data and the opportunity to bring forward a novel, on-demand, oral treatment that addresses the root cause of disease – the ticks that transmit the bacteria that cause Lyme disease," Bobby Azamian, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Tarsus, said in a statement.

Protecting yourself against Lyme disease

Over 30 million Americans are considered to be at high or moderate risk of contracting Lyme disease, which is transmitted to humans by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and, in rare cases, Borrelia mayonii, following a tick bite.

Lyme disease can often go untreated because the ticks are not always noticed. This is especially true for ticks at the nymphal stage when they are the size of a poppy seed.

The disease can cause inflammation, nerve, joint, and muscle pain and swelling, numbness, shortness of breath, and. In severe cases, it can lead to neurological complications such as facial palsy, vision issues, and meningitis.

A short course of oral antibiotics, such as doxycycline or amoxicillin, cures most cases of early Lyme disease. Doxycycline can also be used for prophylaxis if taken within 72 hours of tick removal.

Pfizer’s Lyme disease vaccine candidate, VLA15, is currently in Phase 3 human trials. Thus far, it showed a strong immune response and a favorable safety profile.

While tick-killing medication and vaccines are still in the developmental stages, the best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid tick bites in the first place.

Consider using a repellent when going outside and avoid wooded and brushy areas. When at home, examine gear, pets, and your body for ticks. If you find any, remove them as soon as possible.

As global warming makes the tick season an all-year-round business, new Lyme disease prevention methods are desperately needed.

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