Research Funded by Bay Area Lyme Foundation Identifies New Investigational Therapy Regimen Capable of Irreversibly Damaging Lyme Bacteria in Laboratory Tests

Inspired by research that targets cancer tumors, these new findings in Lyme could also lead to novel R&D strategies for other diseases

PORTOLA VALLEY, Calif., Nov. 01, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Bay Area Lyme Foundation, a leading sponsor of Lyme disease research in the US, today announced the development of a potential new drug, HS-291, that targets and destroys Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Published in the peer-reviewed journal Cell Chemical Biology, this laboratory study represents a novel paradigm shift for anti-microbial treatment research as it is the first to target and inhibit Borrelia burgdorferi HtpG (high temperature protein G), a specific type of enzyme within the bacteria that causes Lyme disease— a condition affecting nearly 500,000 new patients annually. The research was conducted at Duke University School of Medicine, with collaboration from University of North Carolina, Tulane University, and Stanford University, and HS-291 is currently in preclinical stage testing at UC Davis.

“As Lyme disease is currently treated with broad spectrum antibiotics and there are no targeted treatments, we are particularly excited about this discovery, and hopeful that our novel Lyme disease therapeutic HS-291 will specifically destroy the Lyme bacterium without off-target effects or antibiotic resistance,” said Timothy Haystead, PhD, professor of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Duke University School of Medicine, Bay Area Lyme Foundation grantee, and co-lead author. “This research has been an incredible opportunity to leverage knowledge from oncology to Lyme disease in order to design an investigational therapeutic that could one day benefit hundreds of thousands of patients with Lyme.” 

This new discovery has implications beyond Lyme disease as it demonstrates that using the drug HS-291 to deliver cellular toxins to HtpG, a type of non-essential enzyme that assists the folding or unfolding of large and complex proteins, greatly expands what can be considered druggable within any pathogen and opens a whole new area of infectious disease research.

When activated, HS-291, an inhibitor of HtpG tethered to the photoactive cellular toxin verteporfin, causes discrete protein modifications, which wreaks havoc on the Lyme disease bacterium’s DNA. This impacts multiple processes including nucleoid collapse and cell wall disruptions. A single dose of HS-291, when activated by light, irreversibly damages Borrelia proteins in close proximity of Bb HtpG in vitro.

“Antibiotics used to treat Lyme disease do not always work for all patients, which causes many to suffer for years with extreme symptoms including neurocognitive issues, disabling fatigue and sleep disruption,” said Linda Giampa, executive director of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation. “Bay Area Lyme concentrates on funding innovative research, including projects where knowledge can be deployed from other areas of medicine. We hope that this discovery will inspire others to join us in investing in impactful, translational research to bring relief to patients.”

This research was made possible by a 2020 Bay Area Lyme Foundation grant of more than $2 million to Duke University School of Medicine in honor of Neil Spector, MD, a renowned oncologist who passed away from complications of Lyme disease that had been misdiagnosed for years. He encouraged scientists to take cancer staging techniques and immunotherapy learnings from oncology and apply them to Lyme research. Dr. Spector was the Sandra Coates associate professor in the Duke University Department of Medicine and also served on Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board.

Haystead and Spector joined forces as Spector sought to leverage his knowledge of oncology to help better understand Lyme disease, and Haystead’s research is focused on the use of chemical biology approaches to define novel drug targets focused on the treatment of hypertension, obesity, cancer, inflammatory and infectious disease.

Bay Area Lyme Foundation also funded University of North Carolina collaborator, Matt Redinbo, PhD’s research on HS-291; his lab’s crystallography work was instrumental in the discovery process.

Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s research grant program was made possible by the support from the Fairbairn Family, the Younger Family Fund, and Project Lyme.

About Lyme disease 
The most common vector-borne infectious disease in the US, Lyme disease is a potentially disabling infection caused by bacteria transmitted through the bite of an infected tick to people and pets, and may also be passed from a pregnant mother to her unborn baby. If caught early, most cases of Lyme disease can be effectively treated, but it is commonly misdiagnosed due to lack of awareness and inaccurate diagnostic tests. There are approximately 500,000 new cases of Lyme disease each year, according to statistics released in 2018 by the CDC. As a result of the difficulty in diagnosing and treating Lyme disease, up to two million Americans may be suffering from the impact of its debilitating long-term symptoms and complications, according to Bay Area Lyme Foundation estimates.

About Bay Area Lyme Foundation 
Bay Area Lyme Foundation, a national organization committed to making Lyme disease easy to diagnose and simple to cure, is the leading public not-for-profit sponsor of innovative Lyme disease research in the US. A 501c3 organization based in Silicon Valley, Bay Area Lyme Foundation collaborates with world-class scientists and institutions to accelerate medical breakthroughs for Lyme disease. It is also dedicated to providing reliable, fact-based information so that prevention and the importance of early treatment are common knowledge. A pivotal donation from The LaureL STEM FUND covers overhead costs and allows for 100% of all donor contributions to the Bay Area Lyme Foundation to go directly to research and prevention programs. For more information about Lyme disease or to get involved, visit or call us at 650-530-2439.

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Tara DiMilia
Phone: 908-369-7168