Today, at the virtual LymeMIND conference, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation announced a new $25 million-dollar, public-private partnership — the LymeX Innovation Accelerator (LymeX). This is the largest Lyme disease public-private partnership in history. This partnership will be a force multiplier to expedite progress and catalyze change faster than government or other sectors can do on their own.
Our LymeX mission is to strategically advance Lyme and tickborne disease solutions in direct collaboration with Lyme patients, patient advocates, and diverse stakeholders across academia, nonprofits, industry, and government. LymeX will include up to $25 million for Lyme innovation and competition prize awards. The LymeX partnership will prioritize a series of diagnostics prize challenges for Lyme disease to move the next generation of diagnostic tools to market for better patient care.
“Lyme disease is exactly the kind of neglected public health issue that the Trump Administration has made a priority, including by strategic efforts to drive private sector innovation,” says HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “The new $25 million LymeX effort is the largest Lyme disease public-private partnership ever and will help support next-generation science and innovation to address the disease’s growing burden.”
LymeX does not in any way replace or supersede other government programs focused on ticks or tickborne diseases. Rather, it augments federally funded science, disease control and prevention, and regulatory approvals for next-generation diagnostics, treatments, vaccines, and technologies for Lyme and tickborne diseases.
Lyme disease affects more than 300,000 people in the United States each year. Tickborne diseases, including Lyme disease, are increasing in number; they are spreading to new areas; and new tickborne diseases are being discovered. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), domestic cases of tickborne diseases more than doubled from 2004 to 2018.
To reverse these current trends, the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation partnered with HHS on LymeX for transformative impact. The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation is the largest private funder of Lyme and tickborne disease research in the United States. Their philanthropy is inspired by Alex Cohen’s personal journey with Lyme disease.
U.S. government is prioritizing Lyme disease, as exemplified by the LymeX partnership and demonstrated by increasing government budget, leadership, and action for tickborne diseases. In December 2019, President Trump signed the Kay Hagan Tick Act. This authorized an additional $150 million for Lyme and vector-borne diseases over five years. In early 2020, the President’s 2021 Budget requested an increase of $58 million in one year — from $131 million to $189 million for tickborne diseases. Just last month, the HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan and HHS Assistant Secretary for Health, Admiral Brett Giroir, committed $2 million to support LymeX stakeholder engagement, patient-centered innovation, and lab-to-market technologies for Lyme disease.
Challenges with Lyme disease are too big and complex for any one entity or one discipline to solve. Therefore, the LymeX partnership will bring together diverse stakeholders for a holistic approach with crosscutting collaborations for interdisciplinary solutions. Similar to the methods and success of the HHS KidneyX Innovation Accelerator, LymeX will include patients in every step of its innovation process. Three focus areas of LymeX will advance tickborne disease innovation through:
(1) Stakeholder engagement to facilitate patient-centered innovations, using the Health+ model with HHS.
(2) Education and awareness through “open innovation” like crowdsourcing to raise awareness about risk and prevention.
(3) Next-generation diagnostics incentivized with a series of multi-million-dollar grand prize challenges, so prize winners who meet diagnostic performance benchmarks will receive cash prizes for delivering solutions. The first LymeX diagnostics prize will launch in 2021. These diagnostics prizes will be open to U.S. universities, non-profit organizations, private-sector companies, and domestic organizations, per the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, to improve diagnostics at all stages of Lyme disease.
The LymeX partnership fits within the broader, big-tent Lyme Innovation initiative that HHS launched in 2018. The LymeX partnership and program will reside within the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH), which manages the TickBorne Disease Working Group. OASH is also leading and coordinating interagency efforts to implement the U.S. national framework on vector-borne diseases including Lyme and tickborne diseases.
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