Details of new foot and mouth vaccine announced

SCIENTISTS are on the cusp of developing a new, marketable vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV).

Although the vaccine will not be available for six to eight years, trials have begun to distinguish whether it could be used in livestock around the world.

The breakthrough is even more significant because scientists have found a way to produce the vaccine synthetically.

Scientists say there is no chance the vaccine could revert to an infectious form and it would be possible to distinguish between a vaccinated animal and a diseased animal.

The tiny protein shells are designed to trigger optimum immune response, but do not rely on growing live infectious virus, enabling it to be produced safely.

The ‘empty’ shells have been engineered to be more stable and do not require a cold chain store, meaning it can be used in countries such as Africa where the disease is more endemic.

The £6m project has been led by researchers from the Pirbright Institute, Diamond Light Source, the University of Oxford and funded by BBSRC, Defra and the Wellcome Trust.

Announcing the details at a press conference in London this week, scientists said this new methodology for producing and stabilising a vaccine could also impact on how viruses from the same family are fought, including polio.

Life science director at Diamond Light Source, Prof David Stuart, said: “What we have achieved here is close to the holy grail of foot and mouth vaccines.

“Unlike the traditional vaccines, there is no chance the empty shell vaccine could revert to an infectious form. This work will have a broad and enduring impact on vaccine development, and the technology should be transferable to other viruses from the same family, such as poliovirus and hand foot and mouth disease, a human virus which is currently endemic in South-East Asia.”

Head of the Livestock Viral Diseases Programme at The Pirbright Institute, Dr Bryan Charleston, said every country aspired to have FMDV-free status, as the UK currently does, but the vaccine would be an ‘option’ in the fight against the devastating disease.

“You would be able to distinguish between a vaccinated animal and a diseased animal,” he added.

“This product will allow policy makers to have more options in the event of an outbreak.”

The UK’s chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said the research was an ‘exciting leap forward’ but added there was still a long way to go until it is brought to market.

Factbox

  • Approximately 3 to 4 billion doses of vaccine are administered every year
  • The current vaccination technology being used is 50 years old
  • The deadly virus shut down the countryside in 2001, with seven million sheep and cattle being killed

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