Earlier this year, the company announced its first foray into these types of infections in developing vaccines for the tickborne infection utilizing its mRNA vaccine platform.
Lyme disease is a tickborne disease named after the town of Lyme, Connecticut. In 1975 that area experienced a small cluster of cases in both adults and children. It had been around for a number of years but not identified until then. Today, Lyme disease has grown into the largest vector-borne disease in the US.
According to the CDC, there are approximately 20,000-30,000 reported cases of Lyme disease annually in the US alone. The carriers of the pathogen, the blacklegged and western blacklegged ticks, continue to expand into new geographic areas due to climate change and evolving land use patterns such as reforestation.1
Seeing this unmet need to address Lyme disease, Moderna announced it was working on vaccines for it earlier this year. Specifically, they have 2 in development: one for the United States and another for international strains of the disease.
“mRNA 1982 is a monovalent vaccine covering a serotype specific for the bacteria that cause infection in the United States, and mRNA 1975, which includes seven RNAs, covers the seven serotypes of Lyme that are prominent, globally, most prevalently in Europe,” Obadiah Plante, PhD, senior director, Bacteriology, Infectious Disease Research, Moderna Therapeutics, said. “In Europe, we recently initiated a phase 1/2 study, that covers 800 subjects, and we anticipate a readout on that from an immunogenicity standpoint in 2024.”
Plante notes there are some vaccines for bacterial infections that have been successful in protecting people, but he acknowledges some challenges to addressing these types of infections.
“One of the challenges with bacteria is that they're very complex organisms. And there's no one size fits all approach towards vaccine development for them,” Plante said. “And the conjugate vaccine approach, as I alluded to, doesn't work for every single pathogen; they've proven not to work particularly well for Staph aureus or for other pathogens. We feel there's an opportunity for new approaches to vaccines. And that's where mRNA may play an important role from a vaccine development standpoint, offering the ability to code for specific immunogens and potentially show protection and a differentiated platform from those that have been used previously.”
Even with challenges to addressing bacterial infections with vaccines, Moderna has a sincere interest in this area, especially since the company believes its mRNA platform can be applied to different areas of disease.
“We're absolutely interested in the in the bacterial space, and we're heavily invested in infectious disease research in general,” Plante said. “And as it relates to bacteria, it's important not just to target a single pathogen, but also the syndromes that they cause. It'd be wonderful if there was a vaccine platform that could address urinary tract infections, pneumonia, sepsis, intraabdominal infections. A platform like mRNA has potential advantages in that space and that you can combine multiple immunogens together and potentially start to address syndromes, not just single bacterial infections.
1. Division of Vector-Borne Diseases. CDC. Page last reviewed May 11, 2022. Accessed September 24, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/ncezid/dvbd/media/lyme-tickborne-diseases-increasing.html