Here in the UK, a variety of factors are creating a “perfect storm” for the transmission of Lyme borreliosis, a tick-borne disease that causes flu-like symptoms and arthritis in the short term and if not treated promptly with antibiotics, can lead to lifelong neurological and psychiatric problems which are difficult to diagnose, treat and cure.
The history of Lyme disease
Although Lyme disease has been around for millennia (DNA of the parasite causing it was found in “Otzi” the 5,000 year-old Tyrolean iceman) it has become a major public health problem in recent decades, following its identification as the cause of a mysterious epidemic in Old Lyme, Connecticut in the mid-1970s. Since then it has been recorded in 70 countries throughout Europe and North America including the UK, whose 2-3,000 annual cases almost certainly represent a fraction of the true incidence.
More than a million people infected in Germany alone
In Germany more than a million people may be bitten by infected ticks each year. In the absence of organized tick control programmes, the onus is on individuals to protect themselves from tick bites, recognize the symptoms of Lyme disease and access treatment as quickly as possible. However awareness of the disease is poor, even among GPs, and its symptoms can be confused with those of many other conditions, crucially delaying treatment and allowing the parasite to enter the CNS..
The device would form part of the standard equipment of GPs and veterinarians, as well as anyone who regularly works or practices leisure activities in tick habitat. Given that anyone who ever spends time in the countryside and/or owns a dog or cat is also at risk of tick bites (one bite being sufficient to pass on the infection) then the market could potentially be expanded to include every family in each of the 70-odd countries endemic for Lyme disease.
Lyme disease mainly affects relatively affluent people in developed countries, particularly those used to spending considerable amounts on equipment such as camping gear, boots, bicycles etc. Our target market lies with those who are at risk of acquiring the disease, rather than people who already have it. The potential market therefore numbers in the tens of millions each year, worldwide. In addition to preventing huge numbers of cases and providing peace of mind from the risk of acquiring Lyme disease, widespread use of the technology could provide valuable information on the prevalence of infection and risks to public health worldwide. This would help health authorities design efficient tick control programmes and ensure that Lyme disease treatment was available to anyone who required it.
Removal device but crucially an easy to use detection service
Existing removal devices detach the animal mechanically and even in calm, practiced hands often leave the mouthparts attached and/or stress the tick such that they may actually exacerbate the risk of transmission of the Lyme disease parasite. Our device does not use mechanical force and unlike existing devices will have provision to trap, immobilize and store the tick without it being necessary to handle it.
The device will be sold with specially labelled packaging and details of a pre-pay scheme that will make shipment to a testing laboratory a safe, rapid and seamless process. Not every tick needs to be tested; those that have only been attached for a few hours are unlikely to have begun feeding and transmitting the parasite. However ticks may often be discovered on a person’s body several days after an excursion and the harder they are to detach, the more likely they are to have begun feeding. Furthermore, in the event that two or more ticks that were clearly acquired on the same date need to be tested, this could be done as a single test.
The analytical method to be used is based on a highly sensitive and specific molecular technique which is already in use worldwide. The laboratories doing the testing for our technology would be fully accredited so that GPs could begin treatment for Lyme disease in complete confidence based on the result, which would be provided within a few days. Thus patients could access treatment much more quickly and unnecessary antibiotic administration would be reduced, in the case of cases where ticks gave a negative result.
The device could be sold by healthcare retailers (such as Boots) and/or outlets selling outdoor equipment such as Tiso or Milletts. Existing tick removal devices are cheap and disposable, selling for a few pounds. Ours would be more expensive in the order of £20-30, however our device is superior at removing the tick and our detection service is unique.
Tick-borne disease prevention as an investment
Besides their safety and environmentally friendly credentials, our technologies have a number of advantages to investors seeking a relatively rapid return on their investments. The product does not require a lengthy development time or registration costs. Given adequate funding for development, it could be on the market within 2-3 years.
We would seek licensing deals in the order of at least 5-10% of the sale price per unit. The tick device could be guaranteed for a period of 2-3 years. The product would be suitable for use worldwide wherever Lyme disease is a problem, without the need for major modifications due to cultural differences.
Finally it needs to be emphasized that the overwhelming majority of Lyme disease cases could be prevented, if making a way of detecting, removing and analyzing ticks could be made widely available. We have the necessary technology – and with your help we can get it out there and make a massive difference.