Pfizer acquires a stake in a French partner of Jab against Lyme disease

There is currently no vaccine available for Lyme disease, the tick-borne infection that, although rarely fatal, can leave patients with debilitating side effects for months. But now it’s a question of the clock.

On Monday, Pfizer took a $95 million, 8.1% stake in French vaccine developer Valneva to reset the terms of an alliance to develop the first Lyme disease vaccine in two decades.

“Yuppie Vaccine”

Only one Lyme disease vaccine, LYMErix from GlaxoSmithKline, has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration. But its commercial rollout in 1998 — when Lyme disease was seen as a problem for pretentious vacation home owners in New England — was a bigger failure than New Coke. A panel of experts convened by the Center for Disease Control dismissed LYMErix as a “yuppie vaccine” for people who “buy from LL Bean and will have no consideration for cost-effectiveness when they want a vaccine because ‘They will travel to Cape Cod.’

Despite lack of clinical evidence, vaccine class action lawsuit perceived the negative side effects created enough bad publicity to put the jab’s prospects on ice. Sales of LYMErix fell from 1.5 million doses in 1999 to 10,000 in 2002, after which it was withdrawn from the market. Pfizer and Valneva are entering a totally different world:

  • Lyme disease is no longer a “yuppie” concern. Caused by bacteria transmitted by a tick bite, it can cause skin rashes, facial paralysis and arthritis, and about 476,000 Americans are diagnosed and treated each year – which the CDC says “indicates a heavy burden for the health system and the need for more effective preventive measures.”
  • Pfizer’s deal gives Valneva a cash injection to bring its Lyme disease candidate, VLA15, closer to market, and asks the French company to pay 40% of development costs, up from 30% in the under a previous agreement. Depending on the sales performance of the new vaccine – which will enter late-stage trials this year – Valvena could pay out $100 million in milestone payments.

One shot at the other: With $32 billion in expected sales of its Covid vaccine this year, Pfizer finds itself in a position to spend. Ironically, Valvena is focusing on its Lyme jab because its own Covid vaccine failed to spread, with the UK and EU canceling supply orders due to its lesser effectiveness as a booster compared established vaccines like Pfizer’s. One day your enemy, the next day your friend.

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