DEFRA and Pfizer are jointly supporting a project to develop an improved vaccine to treat African Horse Sickness.

DEFRA and pharmaceutical company Pfizer are jointly supporting a project to develop an improved vaccine to treat African Horse Sickness (AHS), a fatal and infectious horse disease that may spread to the UK due to global warming.
AHS is a highly fatal and infectious disease, which affects horses, mules and donkeys. The disease is transmitted via Culicoides midges, which are also responsible for infecting cows and sheep with the Bluetongue virus. AHS kills up to 90 per cent of the horses it infects and is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa. There is growing concern that due to global warming AHS may reach the UK – as bluetongue has done.
The current AHS vaccine is said to have limitations: it contains a “live” version of disease and reverts to virulence in a certain percentage of cases; it is not 100 per cent effective at producing immunity; and it does not have DIVA (differentiating infected from vaccinated animals) properties, which could assist vets in confirming presence of disease.
The AHS Working Group, a Government and industry working group founded and led by Buckinghamshire charity The Horse Trust, has raised awareness of the need to develop a safer and more effective vaccine to limit the impact on the £7b equine industry in the UK (1).
Earlier this month, DEFRA signed a contract with the Institute for Animal Health in Pirbright, Surrey to carry out work on developing a safer and more effective vaccine. DEFRA has provided £570,000 funding for this project, which will take place over the next three years. Pfizer is supporting the project through provision of vaccine technology and collaborating on validation studies.
The work carried out at the Institute for Animal Health will build on the work carried out by the Animal Health Trust and Merrell Dow Pharmaceutical on vector vaccines.
“We are delighted that DEFRA and Pfizer have funded this vital vaccine development work and would like to thank everyone in the African Horse Sickness Working Group who has helped make this happen,” said Paul Jepson, chief executive and veterinary director of The Horse Trust, who chairs the AHS Working Group.
“The new AHS vaccine will be based on vector vaccine technology that has already been developed. The work over the next three years will be to further develop, assess and validate vaccine technologies. We hope that at the end of the three-year project, everything will be ready for a pharmaceutical company to licence the new vaccine.”

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