ASF virus genome research receives €1.4 million funding

Two research projects co-ordinated by researchers at The Pirbright Institute designed to tackle African swine fever and PRRS in pigs, as well as bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) in cattle, have received €3.5 million (about £3m) in funding.

The ASFVInt project, which has received €1.4m, aims to identify the roles of around half of the 150-170 genes contained in the ASFV genome. There are currently no vaccines or treatments available for ASF, so understanding which ASFV genes are important for replication and immune system interaction will help scientists to develop these vital disease control tools.

Co-led by Pirbright’s Dr Chris Netherton, six partners will receive €1.4 million to investigate 80 ASFV genes and decipher what they each do during infection.

They will use this data to determine if there are specific genes that are important for replication or that the virus uses to avoid the pig immune response, which could provide new pathways for antivirals to target or additional genes that could be used in vaccine development.

Dr Netherton said: “Control measures against ASFV are limited by our relatively poor understanding of how ASFV manipulates the host immune response. The ASFVint project will help fill this gap by bringing together expertise from a range of disciplines brought by partners drawn from across Europe. Together we hope to build a road map which help uncover novel ways to combat this fascinating but dangerous virus.”

The other project, NEOVACC, is coordinated by Pirbright’s Professor Simon Graham and aims to develop vaccine strategies to improve protection of new-born animals against BRSV,a major cause of cattle respiratory disease outbreaks globally, and PRRSV, one of the most economically important diseases affecting the global pig industry, with estimated losses in Europe exceeding €1.5 billion per year.

NEOVACC will receive €2.1 million to test vaccine strategies designed to enhance immune responses against these diseases in new-borns.

When animals are born, they are shielded from disease by antibodies that their mothers have passed on to them via their milk. However, these antibodies prevent vaccines from working effectively, meaning that when the mother’s antibodies fade from the new-born’s system, they are vulnerable to infection.

Six research partners will work together to improve protection by specifically targeting the vaccines to new-born immune systems, enhancing vaccine delivery and engineering drugs that boost new-born responses to vaccines.

Professor Graham said: “We are excited to begin work on the NEOVACC project. The consortium brings together a range of complimentary expertise and knowledge to apply to our novel vaccine strategies, which we hope will provide young animals with enhanced protection against two important endemic diseases.”

The projects have been funded through the International Coordination of Research on Infectious Animal Diseases (ICRAD) Transnational Collaborative Research Project. Both projects involve the collaboration of multiple research organisations within the European Union.


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