A major breakthrough could lead to the “holy grail” of foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) vaccines and radically reduce the chance of another UK outbreak.

A major breakthrough could lead to the “holy grail” of foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) vaccines and radically reduce the chance of another UK outbreak.

The Diamond Light Source facility in Oxford.Scientists at The Pirbright Institute, working in collaboration with the universities of Oxford and Reading, have developed a new methodology for FMDV vaccines set to revolutionise the way the disease is fought around the world.

Using the Diamond Light Source particle accelerator (pictured) in Oxford, the team was able to use cells from insects to engineer totally synthetic protein shells that induce an antibody response without the risk of reversion to virulence.

These shells are much more stable than traditional vaccine types and also have the potential to bring to an end the current vaccine shortage, as they can be safely produced outside secure containment facilities.

By using the technology, scientists are also hopeful a universal vaccine for all seven known serotypes of FMDV could be produced against a disease that costs the global economy billions of pounds every year.  

Bryan Charleston is head of the livestock viral disease programme at The Pirbright Institute, which is leading the vaccine trials programme funded by DEFRA and the Wellcome Trust.

Prof Charleston said: “The FMDV epidemic in the UK in 2001 was disastrous and cost the economy billions of pounds in control measures and compensation. As a result, the Royal Society recommended new approaches should be developed to control the virus should it happen again.

“FMDV is a problem occurring every day in the world, particularly in Asia and Africa, and, unfortunately, this virus spreads from those endemic countries to areas that are free of the virus, such as Europe and the UK.

“We don’t have to wait for this technology to be available for all of the serotypes, we can start introducing stable, empty shells into a multi-serotype vaccine, so there could be a scenario where you have life inactivated virus for some of the components and these empty shells for the others.”

Because the vaccine is synthetic, it could be produced in far greater quantities around the world and the enhanced stability of the protein shells means there would be no need for a cold storage chain, making vaccinating animals far cheaper.

The benefits would be the creation of an FMDV firewall, reducing the chance of outbreaks in disease-free countries, and the technology would also make it far easier to differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals should another UK outbreak occur.

Prof Charleston added: “We are trying to attack and control this at source. By reducing the burden of disease in other parts of the world, we can control its spread into free countries.

“Also, very importantly, half of the viral proteins [normally present in live FMDV wild and vaccine strains] are not present in this new platform, which means a whole range of antibodies are not induced and that gives us the chance to discriminate between a vaccinated and an infected animal, so we can tell if a virus is circulating among a vaccinated population or not.”

  • Read the full cover article by James Westgate in next week’s Veterinary Times (43.14)


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