The Pirbright Institute and its research partners have granted MSD Animal Health an exclusive commercial licence for a new, effective and affordable vaccine to protect livestock against several serotypes of foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV).
The vaccine facilitates differentiation between vaccinated and infected animals, such that trade would not be hindered by a vaccination programme. This breakthrough will eliminate the need for mass culling in the event of an outbreak.
The new vaccine is also more stable than current FMD vaccines, and less reliant on cold-chain storage during vaccine distribution, increasing its potential for use in areas where the disease is endemic, in large parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
The vaccine is the result of long-standing collaborations between Pirbright (the UK’s world-leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of virus diseases), the University of Oxford, Diamond Light Source, the University of Reading, and MSD Animal Health, a division of Merck & Co Inc, who now take forward the new technology into development, registration and manufacturing, supported by funding from Wellcome.
The new synthetic vaccine is designed to trigger optimum immune response without the need to grow live infectious virus for vaccine production.
It has been engineered to remain stable up to temperatures of 56°C.
MSD says the methods used to make and stabilise this vaccine could potentially be employed in the fight against other viruses from the same family, including polio.
Foot-and-mouth disease not only impacts animal welfare, but the wellbeing of those reliant on susceptible animals for produce and trade.
This vaccine will help to address the current shortfall in vaccine availability, which will have a huge impact on the economic prosperity of those countries blighted by the disease, as well as improving the livelihoods of those living in affected regions.
Professor Bryan Charleston, Director of The Pirbright Institute, said it will have a major impact on the health and wellbeing of people whose livelihoods have been most severely affected by FMD.
Dr Erwin van den Born, R&D Project Leader at MSD Animal Health, said: “FMD causes enormous economic losses to the livestock industry, resulting from morbidity in adult animals, reduced animal productivity, mortality in young stock and restriction to international trade in animals and animal products. We are pleased to be part of the solution, working with research collaborators on new technology to quickly adapt vaccines to emerging viruses.”
Ian Jones, Professor of Virology at the University of Reading, said: “I look forward to seeing their [MSD Animal Health] industrial know-how catapult the product into the commercial arena to provide a cost-effective and safe vaccine to the benefit of industrial and subsistence farmers alike.”
Professor David Stuart at the University of Oxford, said: “We have been working to achieve something close to the holy grail of vaccines.
The key thing is that unlike the traditional FMDV vaccines, there is no chance that the empty shell vaccine could revert to an infectious form.
Bethan Hughes, Wellcome, said: “This technology has the potential to transform the production of foot-and-mouth disease vaccines globally, and could have a huge impact on the lives of livestock farmers and their families in countries where the disease is endemic in Africa and Asia.”
The vaccine’s ‘virus-like particles’ do not contain genetic material, and are propagated in insect cells.
Initial research was funded by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, after which Wellcome funded the programme.
n Ireland experienced its only foot and mouth outbreak since 1941 in March, 2001.
On February 19 of that year, the first cases of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain in 20 years were discovered at an abattoir in Essex.
The disease was confirmed in Northern Ireland on February 28. On March 22, an outbreak was confirmed south of the border, in a sheep flock near Jenkinstown, Co Louth.
An aggressive slaughter policy was initiated, with the cull of 13,000 sheep and 3,000 cows within an exclusion zone in Co Louth.
There were 2,026 cases of the disease on British farms.
More than six million cows and sheep were killed, to halt the disease. Estimates of the impact on the UK’s GDP in 2001 vary from £1.6 billion to £6.3bn ((0.2% to 0.7% of GDP).