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Connaught Laboratories extends contract on research for Lyme disease test (Released: 12/8/95)

by Thomas Becher, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- Scientists at the University of Connecticut have received extended funding and a renewal of their contract with Connaught Laboratories Inc. of Pennsylvania to develop an early test for Lyme disease.

Connaught and UConn announced a collaboration in February to find a new test that can cut the time and cost of treatment of the disease through early detection. At that time, Connaught committed nearly $100,000 in research support to assist the work of Sandra Bushmich, associate professor of pathobiology, and Hallie Krider, professor of molecular and cell biology.

Connaught has determined that results of the work at UConn are sufficiently promising to extend the contract to a second phase of funding, says Stewart Rosenberg, president and CEO of Bio-Investigations Ltd., the Madison-based venture capital consulting firm that negotiated the collaboration.

Rosenberg said Connaught has agreed to invest an additional amount of about twice the originally committed funding to the UConn project over the next 12 months. In July the firm provided extra funds to Bushmich and Krider for the purchase of a fluorescent microscope which they and other UConn faculty scientists and students are using to study a host of subjects, including Lyme disease.

Lyme disease, which endangers both humans and animals, is the most widespread tick-borne illness in the United States. First reported in Old Lyme in 1975, Connecticut remains a major locale for this disease. The annual number of human Lyme disease cases reported to the Connecticut Department of Health Services has increased from 460 in 1984 to 8,185 in 1993, but experts estimate that only 10 percent to 20 percent of cases are reported. The UConn test is being designed to help detect the disease in animals and humans.

In the first weeks following infection, when rash and flu-like symptoms are common, Lyme disease can be treated with oral antibiotics for about $100. If treatment is delayed, however, the disease may go on to cause chronic arthritis, heart problems and neurological disorders; the cost of treatment at this stage, including lost income, can reach $60,000, Bushmich says.

Current tests for Lyme disease, which look for antibodies, only become effective three to six weeks following infection. Physicians need a test to help them decide sooner what kind of treatment to prescribe for symptoms that may or may not be Lyme disease.

UConn owns all technology developed in its laboratories and can file for patents and collect royalties on sales of products based on such technology. Bio-Investigations Ltd. holds the exclusive worldwide license to the UConn diagnostic technology. Should the UConn Lyme disease test prove successful, Connaught has first rights to manufacture and sell the test materials under the terms of its exclusive sublicense from Bio-Investigations.

Connaught Laboratories, based in Swiftwater, Pa., is one of the world's leading developers and producers of human vaccines. A subsidiary of Institute M.rieux, a private research firm in France, Connaught provides vaccines against influenza, yellow fever, diphtheria, pertussis and Hemophilus Influenza-b. The company is now conducting clinical trials of a potential vaccine for preventing Lyme disease.

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