Scientists at The Pirbright Institute have received money which will enable research into boosting vaccine yields by up to ten fold. The funding was awarded by the Livestock Vaccine Innovation Fund which is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Global Affairs Canada (GAC), and Canada’s International Development Research Centre.
Many vaccines are produced in hen’s eggs or cell lines, but the immune responses prevent the vaccine viruses from replicating at high levels, which reduces the vaccine yield. The funding will enable the Genetics and Genomics group at Pirbright to research a set of immune proteins in chickens called chIFITMs, which prevent viruses from multiplying in cells.
Dr Mark Fife, research lead and Head of the Genetics and Genomics group, said: "Our new research will involve using a gene editing system called CRISPR/Cas9 to remove the chIFITM genes in chicken cells, which will boost the levels of vaccine virus produced. For example, removing the chIFITM genes could halve the flu vaccine egg requirement from two eggs per dose to one egg per dose”.
This increase in yield will make vaccines cheaper to produce and more accessible to livestock owners in developing nations, the main target of this funding. Initially the researchers will focus on increasing flu vaccine yields, but the technique can be applied to multiple livestock viral diseases and potentially human diseases too.
Throughout the project, scientists at Pirbright will work closely with Horizon Discovery Group plc, a global leader in gene editing and gene modulation technologies. Once the technique has been piloted, Pirbright researchers will work with commercial companies to bring this new technology to market.
This research has the potential to increase vaccine yields between five and ten-fold, which can make a vast difference to manufacturing costs and vaccine prices in an industry where the total revenue for vaccines produced in eggs and cell lines is approximately $14.3 billion. The project is set to run for four years, so this new technology could be commercially available as early as 2021.
By 2024, global poultry meat consumption is expected to rise by over 20 million tonnes compared to 2015, and it is therefore essential to develop efficient and affordable vaccines to help maximise outputs worldwide.