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Application Story: US BIOLOGIC vs. Lyme Disease

US BIOLOGIC targets mice with vaccine-coated snacks to prevent transmission of Lyme disease

US BIOLOGIC logoInnovative coating process creates an appetite for Lyme disease vaccine pellets

The threat of zoonotic diseases can turn the most avid outdoor enthusiast into a couch potato.

Lyme disease, Ebola, West Nile virus, malaria, and rabies are well-known zoonotic diseases, maladies existing in animals that can be transmitted to humans. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) states that "more than 6 out of every 10 infectious diseases in humans are spread from animals." Every year in the United States, over 300,000 people acquire Lyme disease from tick bites. This is an insidious disease causing severe damage to joints, neurologic disorders, and occasionally death.

Coated pellets are eaten by mice, preventing the spread of Lyme disease to ticks, and ultimately to humans

Coated pellets are eaten by mice, preventing the spread of Lyme disease
to ticks, and ultimately to humans.
"It's scary and it keeps growing," says Mason Kauffman, CEO of US BIOLOGIC. The Memphis, TN based company has pioneered a method of delivering an oral vaccine for Lyme disease to its animal source: the white-footed mouse.

"We break the supply chain for Lyme disease by vaccinating the mice through a simple coated pellet," explains Kauffman. "Mice are the reservoir of the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Ticks get the bacteria from mice and then pass it on to humans." Kauffman says US BIOLOGIC is flipping this scenario to make mice part of the disease prevention solution.

Five years of CDC-sponsored field tests has proved this approach works. Mice developed antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi after eating pellets coated with the vaccine. In the final year of testing, this reduced tick infection by 76%, meaning fewer ticks could infect humans with Lyme disease.

Working to obtain USDA approval for the vaccine, US BIOLOGIC faced the challenge of developing and manufacturing the pellets in a form that would be irresistible to mice, environmentally neutral, and hardy enough for distribution outdoors.

"In collaboration with Purina Mills, US BIOLOGIC created a hard acorn-size pellet that contains 100% natural products. "Our goal was to reduce the level of harmful bacteria in the environment while not changing the environmental balance in any way," says Kauffman. "The coated pellet solution has exceeded all expectations." US BIOLOGIC wanted to apply two coatings on the pellets: the vaccine and a weather-resistant outer coating that would be appealing to mice. However, accurate and simultaneous application of these coatings during mass production posed a problem. "We care about speed and output," explained Kauffman, "but more than anything we want every pellet to be perfect."

Spray Dynamics developed a special centrifugal coating applicator for U.S. Biologic. CEO, Mason Kauffman (left) and COO, Steve Zatechka (right)

Spray Dynamics developed a special centrifugal coating applicator for U.S. Biologic. CEO, Mason Kauffman (left) and COO, Steve Zatechka (right).
Company COO, Steve Zatechka, PhD, was responsible for developing a suitable production process. He looked to the food processing industry for assistance and contacted Heat and Control's Spray Dynamics office.

A leading manufacturer of applicators for wet and dry coatings, Spray Dynamics invited Zatechka to its test facility in St. Claire, MO. "It was a good collaborative project from the outset," he recalls. "We brought samples of our pellets and coatings and worked with their engineers to achieve the output and gentleness required for our process. Although they had never built a machine for this type of application, Spray Dynamics developed a centrifugal coater that is quite unique."

"This was a fun and intellectually challenging project," says Doug Hanify, Spray Dynamics' Director of Technology. "We typically apply coatings to food products and also vitamins, and glazes to nutraceuticals," he explains. "The US BIOLOGIC coatings required much tighter specifications and control."

Coating parameters are controlled from a simple touch screen

Coating parameters are controlled from a simple touch screen.
In addition to being temperature sensitive, the liquid vaccine and encapsulation coatings solidify when combined. Hanify says Spray Dynamics' centrifugal batch coater was customized to meet these requirements. In fact, the coating application is so precise, it did not create special cleaning issues beyond the need for an automatic air-purge to keep the encapsulation liquid supply line clear. Rate check set-ups based on pump speed and applicator timing were included to assure coating consistency for each batch cycle.

"Spray Dynamics has been our key partner, helping us achieve the speed, quality, and efficiency we need," says Kauffman. "Together, we're entering a new world of disease protection."

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