African swine fever (ASF) and lumpy skin disease (LSD) represent an immediate and serious threat to the pig and cattle industries in Europe and eastern and central Asia. The need for a more collaborative approach to tackle these diseases has been recognised by the European Union Horizon 2020 programme, which has awarded €5.6 million in funding to a 31 member consortium called DEFEND.
Led by scientists at The Pirbright Institute, DEFEND aims to control the growing LSD and ASF epidemics in Europe by understanding what drives outbreaks of these diseases, through generating research that allows the development of new diagnostic tools and vaccines, and by working closely with decision-makers to make appropriate and rapid responses.
Both diseases have drawn concern following their rapid spread into Europe which has been aided in part by insufficient knowledge and resources available for combatting them. The lack of vaccine for ASF, a highly contagious disease of pigs, creates a huge barrier for the control of outbreaks, particularly as free roaming wild boar are able to spread the disease to domestic pigs, causing up to 100% mortality.
Prevention of LSD, which causes a poxvirus disease in cattle, is similarly hampered due to the unknown mechanism of transmission. As the disease is transmitted rapidly in warm, humid conditions, it is suspected there is an insect vector involved, which has facilitated the spread of LSD into Europe, the Balkans and Caucasus, causing the deaths of thousands of cattle through mortality and mandated eradication campaigns.
“DEFEND will give us the opportunity to coordinate one of the largest groups of ASF and LSD disease experts and will help us to focus research in a way that will have real impact on the ground” said Dr Pip Beard, leader of the consortium and head of the Large DNA Viruses group at Pirbright.
The consortium partners include academia, government and industry, and come from 21 countries across Europe as well as Russia, Canada, Israel, Azerbaijan, South Africa and Australia. “By partnering these 31 varied and specialised organisations we hope to streamline the journey from scientific discoveries to policy implementation that will ultimately help to control these devastating diseases” said Dr Beard.
The research carried out by the members of DEFEND is split into 15 inter-related work packages, four of which Pirbright scientists are leading on:
- Dr Pip Beard (work package 11) - LSD vaccine design for use in Europe and neighbouring countries
- Dr Chris Netherton (work package 7) - ASF vaccine development for wild boar and backyard pigs
- Dr Paolo Ribeca (work package 2) - Analysis of LSD and ASF genetic sequences to develop DNA based diagnostic tools
- Dr Bryan Charleston (work package 8) - Characterisation of the cattle immune response against LSD
Dr Nick Lyons will also provide expertise on vaccine use in addition to the diagnostic support that will be provided by the Pirbright reference laboratories.