Scientists from The Pirbright Institute are a step closer to developing a vital vaccine for African swine fever (ASF), a pig disease that the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has warned could kill a quarter of the world’s pigs, partly due to the absence of a commercially available vaccine. Their study, published in Vaccines showed that 100 percent of pigs immunised with the new vaccine were protected from a lethal dose of ASF virus (ASFV).
The team created what is known as a vectored vaccine by inserting eight strategically selected ASFV genes into a non-harmful virus, known as a vector. Vectors are used to deliver the genes to pig cells where they produce viral proteins that prime the pig immune system to rapidly respond to an ASF infection. The combination of eight virus genes protected pigs from severe disease after challenge with an otherwise fatal strain of ASFV, although clinical signs of disease did develop.
This is the first time that a vectored vaccine has shown a protective effect against ASF. Further development is needed, but if successful, this vaccine would enable the differentiation of infected animals from those that have received a vaccine (DIVA), which would allow vaccination programmes to be established without sacrificing the ability to trade.
ASF continues to spread across Eastern Europe and Asia, resulting in the death of over seven million pigs worldwide in 2019 and disrupting entire trade systems that are intertwined with the pork industry. Without a commercial vaccine, stringent biosecurity measures and the culling of susceptible animals are the only methods available to bring ASF under control.
Dr Chris Netherton, Head of Pirbright’s ASF Vaccinology Group, commented: “Demonstrating that our vaccine has the potential to fully protect pigs against ASF is a huge step in our vaccine development programme. We have already begun work to refine the genes included in the vaccine to improve its effectiveness and provide more protection.”
Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, said: “This is a very encouraging breakthrough and it means we are one step closer to safeguarding the health of our pigs and the wider industry’s role in global food supply from African swine fever.
“While there has never been an outbreak of African swine fever in the UK, we are not complacent and already have robust measures in place to protect against animal disease outbreaks.
“We will also continue to work closely with the UK pig sector to raise awareness of the risks and advise on maintaining high biosecurity standards.”
Notes to editors
This research was funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
ASF is caused by the highly infectious ASF virus that can cause fever, loss of appetite, vomiting and bloody diarrhoea in all pigs and wild boar. The disease is often deadly, with some strains approaching case fatality rates of 100%. The virus does not cause disease in humans, but it does pose a significant threat to food security and has a substantial impact on the economy, especially on trade and farming. For more information about the virus, visit the Pirbright ASF page.
Since establishing an ASF programme in 1963, Pirbright scientists have continued to be at the forefront of ASF research. Current areas of work include understanding how the virus functions, how it interacts with pig immune system, vaccine development and the testing of antivirals. In addition, Pirbright ASF experts offer advice to the UK government and have helped to provide a resource which helps with diagnosis of the disease. Pirbright is also home to the National and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) ASF reference laboratories, where samples from suspected cases are tested.
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About The Pirbright Institute
The Pirbright Institute is a world leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of virus diseases of farm animals and viruses that spread from animals to humans. Based in the UK and receiving strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Institute works to enhance capability to contain, control and eliminate these economically and medically important diseases through highly innovative fundamental and applied bioscience.
With an annual income in excess of £35 million from grants and commercial activity, and a total of £12.6 million strategic investment from BBSRC during 2018-2019, the Institute contributes to global food security and health, improving quality of life for animals and people.
For more information about The Pirbright Institute see: www.pirbright.ac.uk
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £451 million in world-class bioscience in 2019-20.
We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact: www.bbsrc.ukri.org
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