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Treating deer with a tick-killing pill may help eliminate Lyme disease in humans. Learn about exciting research on using lotilaner to disrupt tick populations and prevent tick-borne diseases; featuring GLA Scientific Advisory Board member Linden Hu as Principle Investigator.

In a groundbreaking clinical trial led by Tarsus Pharmaceuticals, researchers are using the anti-tick drug lotilaner, historically used on dogs, to prevent ticks from feeding on humans. This Phase 2 trial is pivotal in the ongoing battle against tick-borne diseases, including Lyme disease, the most prevalent tick-borne infection in the United States. Lyme disease affects over 470,000 Americans annually, transmitted primarily by the Ixodes scapularis tick, which can also carry other dangerous pathogens.

Expert Involvement Enhances Research Potential

Linden Hu, a member of the Global Lyme Alliance (GLA) Scientific Advisory Board and a principal investigator from Tufts University, is actively involved in these crucial human trials. His expertise in infectious diseases adds significant depth to the research, emphasizing the potential of lotilaner in human medicine.

The drug, part of the isoxazoline class, has been effective in interrupting tick feeding on animals, quickly killing various tick species, including those responsible for Lyme disease. This preventive approach is crucial as pathogens like Borrelia burgdorferi and Babesia microti, responsible for Lyme disease and babesiosis respectively, require prolonged tick attachment to be transmitted.

Expanding the Use of Lotilaner to White-Tailed Deer

The study also explores an innovative application of lotilaner: treating white-tailed deer to interrupt the reproductive cycle of ticks. Female ticks rely on blood meals from deer to lay eggs. Preventing these meals could significantly reduce tick populations and the spread of tick-borne diseases. This strategy has the potential not only to lessen the burden of Lyme disease but also to mitigate other infections transmitted by ticks, such as human monocytic ehrlichiosis and red meat allergy triggered by the lone star tick.

Potential Challenges and Future Directions

Senior author Steven Rich, PhD, from the University of Massachusetts and co-founder of TickReport, supports these trials and poses the potential of using lotilaner in deer. He suggests that oral administration, similar to methods used in dogs, could effectively reduce tick populations in specific geographic areas.

The proposed deer treatment could involve placing lotilaner in feeding stations or mixing it with baits like molasses, a strategy akin to how other medications have been administered to control parasites in wildlife. This approach needs to ensure the safety of both deer and humans, particularly those consuming deer meat.

Looking Ahead: Implications for Public Health

As these clinical trials progress, the hope is that lotilaner will become a game-changer in public health by reducing the incidence of tick bites and, consequently, tick-borne diseases in humans. The outcome of this research could represent a significant leap forward in controlling these pervasive and often debilitating infections.

1 Gary P. Wormser M.D. , Thomas N. Mather PhD , Stephen M. Rich PhD, Could Treating Deer with a Pill that Kills Ticks on Dogs Eliminate Lyme Disease from Humans?, The American Journal of Medicine (2024), doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2024.04.038


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