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New vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease gains licence – University of Reading

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New vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease gains licence

Release Date 02 September 2019

Dairy cows

A new synthetic vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease developed with help from a University of Reading virologist has been licensed to make protection against the disease more effective and cheaper.

Prof Ian Jones from the School of Biological Sciences worked with the Pirbright Institute and other research partners to develop the new vaccine which has been exclusively licensed to MSD Animal Health.

The new, effective and affordable vaccine will protect livestock against several serotypes of foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV). The new vaccine is more stable than current foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) vaccines and is less reliant on a cold-chain during vaccine distribution – characteristics that give the vaccine 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., who 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.   

Professor Ian Jones, Professor of Virology at the University of Reading, commented:

“Many successful findings at the bench fail to progress to commerce as their manufacture is problematic. It is particularly gratifying therefore that MSD Animal Health have engaged fully with our recombinant vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease. I look forward to seeing their 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.”

Synthetic Vaccine

The granting of the licence is an important milestone in years of research, to develop a new synthetic vaccine designed to trigger optimum immune responses without the need to grow live infectious virus for vaccine production. It also highlights the confidence MSD Animal Health has in the new vaccine’s effectiveness, safety and viability for commercial production.

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.

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) such that 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. Importantly, this method of making and stabilising vaccines 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: “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." 

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.”

 

Further information

The vaccine VLPs do not contain genetic material and are propagated in insect cells, removing the need for high containment production. Initial research for the vaccine was funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), after which Wellcome continued to fund the programme to develop the vaccine for low and middle income countries.

 

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