As the U.S. continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, we in the medical community must also keep our eye on progressing research and solutions in other disease areas with high unmet need. One of these is Lyme disease, which has similarities in symptoms with COVID-19, causing even more confusion in an already hard to diagnose – and often misdiagnosed – condition.
The onset of Lyme disease, which impacts an estimated 427,000 people each year, oftentimes signals the start of a long, frustrating and painful journey. Lyme disease is frequently missed or misdiagnosed due to a combination of vague symptoms – fever, fatigue, muscle and joint aches – and unreliable testing at the beginning of infection. In fact, only 30% of people acutely infected with Lyme disease test positive in the early stage when it is the optimal time to treat.
Since antibodies to an infection can take several weeks to develop, standard blood-based antibody tests fail to diagnose up to 60-70% of patients in the acute Lyme setting. These tests also cannot tell the difference between active and old infections, so many people will continue to test positive for the disease even after they have been successfully treated with antibiotics. But the most unfortunate aspect of this paradigm is that if left untreated, Lyme disease can become a debilitating, chronic illness, leaving over 40 percent of sufferers unemployed and 27 percent on disability.
This complex, lengthy and costly journey of misdiagnosis or delay in treatment, or “diagnostic odyssey,” costs our healthcare system up to a billion dollars each year and may cause potentially life-altering and long-term complications for patients such as chronic pain and fatigue, memory issues and nerve paralysis. Along the way, patients are frequently misdiagnosed and treated for conditions such as multiple sclerosis and depression.
At Adaptive Biotechnologies, we believe that measuring the T-cell based response to Lyme disease can improve diagnosis, therefore enabling the right intervention and improving outcomes. Our immune medicine platform brings together science and technology such as AI and machine learning helping us to see how our bodies naturally detect and respond to many diseases, including Lyme disease. Similar to how we’ve responded to the call and need for better diagnostics to test for COVID-19 with our partner Microsoft, our goal is to develop a T-cell based diagnostic test for Lyme disease that is more sensitive in the earliest stages of disease – so patients can benefit from more accurate diagnosis and treatment when it is most effective.
An important priority at Adaptive is the launch of the ImmuneSense Lyme clinical validation study. Preliminary data on our immunoSEQ Dx Lyme Assay test shows the test could be significantly more sensitive than standard serology testing in the early stage of disease. In this new study, we hope to confirm these findings and have the opportunity to bring forth a new diagnostic for this serious and often overlooked condition. It’s time to improve the diagnostic odyssey for those impacted by Lyme disease, and we hope to help bring about this change.