The Pirbright Institute receives strategic funding from BBSRC

Dr John Anderson, former Head of the Institute for Animal Health’s Pirbright Laboratory, which receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council, was awarded a medal and certificate by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for his personal contributions to the eradication of rinderpest (cattle plague). A medal was also given to the IAH for its decades of commitment to the fight against this disease. The Institute is the FAO and OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) Reference Laboratory for Rinderpest, which was headed by Dr Anderson. Also given personal FAO medals were several researchers who had worked within the Institute: the late Tom Barratt; John Crowther, Martyn Jeggo, Peter Roeder, Les Rowe and Bill Taylor; and Adama Diallo, who had links with Pirbright in association with the FAO/International Atomic Energy Authority Joint Division in Vienna.

The awards were made on 27th June at FAO headquarters in Rome by FAO Director General Jacques Diouf who also unveiled a plaque which cites professionals, technical and financial institutions and member states for their exemplary work and collaboration in the eradication effort. A declaration of global freedom from rinderpest is being adopted by FAO today (28th June). Dr Diouf described rinderpest as "one of history's deadliest animal diseases and long time threat to human livelihoods and food security."

In the 1980s and 90s Dr Anderson MBE and IAH colleagues developed robust novel diagnostic tests for detecting antibodies to rinderpest virus and for detecting the virus itself. Under John’s guidance IAH performed many thousands of tests for rinderpest, trained overseas diagnosticians at IAH Pirbright, and established diagnostic centres in Africa and Asia. Accurate detection of infection and continued surveillance based on the laboratory tests were integral to the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme initiated by FAO and OIE in 1994. The tests were performed in their thousands alongside a vaccination programme, which was ultimately successful. The continual active surveillance programme for rinderpest was officially ended in 2010, as no rinderpest virus or evidence of spread had been detected since 2001.

In the 1990s the late Professor Tom Barrett of IAH introduced genetic fingerprinting into the fight against rinderpest virus. The genetic fingerprint of a given strain of virus enabled its relationship with other strains to be established, providing evidence to identify the source of the virus in an outbreak, and the likely means by which the disease arrived to a region.

A number of other notable scientists who contributed to the demise of rinderpest worked within the IAH. In the 1950s Dr Walter Plowright developed one of the most successful vaccines against rinderpest, for which he was awarded the World Food Prize. He later became Head of the Department of Microbiology at the Institute's Compton Laboratory between 1978 and 1983. In the 1960s Dr William (Bill) Taylor directed the production of the Plowright vaccine at the East African Veterinary Organisation, Kenya. He continued to work on rinderpest, and the closely related peste des petits ruminants virus, after he joined the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright in 1978.

Dr Martyn Jeggo, currently Director of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL), Geelong, worked at IAH Pirbright from 1979 to 1986, where his research included the diagnosis of rinderpest. Subsequently he joined FAO where he was intimately involved in the campaign against rinderpest, collaborating with John Anderson, Bill Taylor and Peter Roeder, who also worked in the IAH in 1984/85.

The Institute's Dr Michael Baron is now an OIE expert on rinderpest and peste des petits ruminants virus.

A short history of the centuries-long fight against rinderpest is on the IAH’s website: