Rinderpest (RP) is a highly contagious viral disease that primarily affects large cloven hooved animals, especially cattle and buffalo. In June 2011 the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) formally declared the disease to be globally eradicated, a process in which The Pirbright Institute played a key role.
The Institute became the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)’s World Reference Laboratory (WRL) for rinderpest in 1994, with several scientists from Pirbright playing important roles in rinderpest eradication. Sir Walter Plowright (d.2010) developed a safe, effective rinderpest vaccine whilst working in Kenya that was used in most countries during the eradication campaign. This major development led Walter Plowright to receive the World Food Prize in 1999 and our world-class high-containment laboratory is named after him: The BBSRC National Virology Centre: The Plowright Building.
Despite the eradication, more than 24 facilities world-wide still hold stocks of rinderpest virus (RPV) containing materials which potentially pose a risk of reintroduction. To reduce this risk, FAO and the OIE introduced Rinderpest Holding Facilities (RHF). These are laboratories that have been inspected and approved as secure enough to hold the virus. Laboratories that hold stocks of RPV are encouraged to move it to a designated RHF.
There are just five RHFs internationally that are approved to safely store RPV material and Pirbright is one of those five.
A network of international specialists formed the Rinderpest Holding Facility Network, with plans to develop a non-infectious diagnostic control. Dr Carrie Batten at Pirbright is Secretariat for the network and, along with Dr Michael Baron, is leading on a so-called "sequence and destroy" project.
They are performing full-genome sequencing of all the Institute's archive of rinderpest isolates, recording the data and then destroying all stocks of those viruses. In this way, the biological information is retained, whilst removing the risk posed by retaining the live virus. A round of sample destruction took place in February 2018 with 286 vials destroyed, which represented 24 RPV isolates.
Samples were removed from storage, decontaminated with disinfectant and then autoclaved for destruction.
A further round of destrcution took place in June 2018.