The Pirbright Institute and its research partners have granted MSD Animal Health a commercial licence for a new, effective and affordable vaccine to 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.
The granting of the licence highlights the confidence MSD Animal Health has in the new vaccine’s effectiveness, safety and viability for commercial production. It is an important milestone in years of research to develop a new vaccine that is made of small synthetic protein shells, called ‘virus like particles’ (VLPs), which mimic the FMDV outer shell and are designed to trigger optimum immune responses.
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 the need for mass culling in the event of an outbreak would be negated. Importantly, this method of making and stabilising vaccines could potentially be employed in the fight against other viruses from the same family, including polio.
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.”