The Pirbright Institute and its research partners have granted MSD Animal Health an exclusive commercial licence for a new foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) vaccine.
Pirbright said the new ‘effective and affordable vaccine’ protects livestock against several serotypes of virus (FMDV) and is more stable than current FMD vaccines. It is less reliant on a cold-chain during vaccine distribution – characteristics that give it greater potential for helping to relieve the burden placed on regions where the disease is endemic in large parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
The vaccine has been developed over the years from basic science to animal trials as a result of long-standing collaborations between Pirbright, the University of Oxford, Diamond Light Source, the University of Reading and MSD Animal Health, a division of Merck & Co., Inc. MSD will now be taking forward the new technology into development, registration and manufacturing. This work has been supported by funding from Wellcome to speed up commercialisation.
The vaccine is made of small synthetic protein shells, called ‘virus like particles’ (VLPs), which mimic the FMDV outer shell and so stimulate an immune response. Unlike other inactivated FMD vaccines, the VLPs do not require high containment facilities for production and have been engineered to remain stable up to temperatures of 56°C, reducing reliance on cold-chain transport and storage. These two factors will revolutionise vaccine deployment in areas of Africa and Asia, where the disease continues to circulate, Pirbright said.
Regions where the disease is not endemic could also benefit since the VLPs lack specific viral proteins, facilitating differentiation between vaccinated and infected animals (DIVA). This means trade would not be hindered by a vaccination programme and this protection would eliminate the need for mass culling in the event of an outbreak – a major stumbling block to a vaccination policy at the time of the devastating 2001 FMD outbreak.
Professor Bryan Charleston, director of The Pirbright Institute, said: “We are proud and excited that our research has resulted in a vaccine that is undergoing commercial development and will have a major impact on the health and wellbeing of those people whose livelihoods have been most severely affected by this devastating disease. The vaccine’s properties allow for a greater degree of flexibility during production, storage and transportation, which will result in a more affordable solution and therefore better access to those living in areas such as Asia and Africa.”
Dr Erwin van den Born, R&D Project Leader at MSD Animal Health, added: “MSD Animal Health is dedicated to fostering innovation that will help countries better respond to FMD outbreaks. 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 in working with the research collaborators on new technology to quickly adapt vaccines to emerging viruses.”
Defra Chief Veterinary Officer, Christine Middlemiss, said: “This is a major milestone in tackling foot-and-mouth disease in the developing countries where it is endemic. The increased robustness of this new vaccine has the potential to not only protect livestock, but to transform the lives of people whose livelihoods have previously been threatened by this disease. Many people have worked for years to get to this point, and I am delighted to see the vaccine receive its commercial licence.”