Search for drugs to slow spread of swine fever

Dead pigs wrapped in plastic bags going into a landfill after being culled by government authorities in Hong Kong aftertheir first case of African swine fever was detected in mid-May. Picture: AP Photo/Kin Cheung

The Pirbright Institute is entering into partnership with a Belgian company to develop the first antiviral drugs against African swine fever (ASF).

The Surrey, England, based research institute will work with the ViroVet biotechnology company on antiviral drugs which could reduce the spread of ASF and help to contain outbreaks.

Established over 100 years ago as a cattle testing station for tuberculosis, Pirbright played a pivotal role in controlling and preventing some of the world’s most devastating diseases, and is a world-leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of virus diseases of farm animals, and viruses that spread from animals to humans.

There is no vaccine for ASF, but antiviral drugs have already been screened in the laboratory by ViroVet, and shown a reduction in viral replication of at least 90%.

The most successful candidates will be further tested at Pirbright’s unique high-containment facilities.

Dr Linda Dixon, head of the ASF Group at Pirbright, said: “Without a viable vaccine, ASF is incredibly difficult to control, owing to its ability to be spread by wild boar and through the consumption of contaminated pork and other products by pigs. Having a tool which could lower the risk of further transmission once pigs have been infected would go a long way in preventing the rapid spread of this disease.”

ASF is usually fatal to pigs with serious economic consequences for farmers, processors and exporters. However, there are no known implications for human health or food safety, other than shortages of pork.

It has already resulted in over one million pigs being culled in China. Some sources warn that the eventual loss of the sow herd could be up to 60% in China, which has close to half of the world’s pigs.

The disease has spread to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia and North Korea. It is endemic in Sardinia, most countries of sub- Saharan Africa, and some West African countries.

It has spread through Russia, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and is established in wild boars in Belgium.

There has been an increase in global pork prices of almost 40%, as supplies fall due to ASF losses.

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