Scientists have unlocked the potential for a new generation of poultry vaccines that could be labour-saving for vets and enhance animal welfare.

Scientists at Pirbright have used genetic engineering to develop a “more efficient and effective” vaccine for Marek’s disease virus.

Genetic engineering has been used by scientists at The Pirbright Institute to develop a “more efficient and effective” vaccine for Marek’s disease virus (MDV), a herpesvirus that can cause neurological problems, leg or wing paralysis, eye lesions and tumours in poultry.

According to the institute, the growth and security of the poultry industry – worth £3.6 billion a year to the UK economy – is threatened by a number of diseases, including MDV, which could lead to losses of up to 20%.

MDV is controlled by vaccination, with more than 20 billion doses administered worldwide annually.

Easy to produce

Yongxiu Yao, a senior scientist working in the viral oncogenesis group at the institute, created a vaccine capable of protecting against the most dangerous strains of the virus.

The vaccine will also be much quicker and easier to produce with the potential to deliver multi-million pound savings for the UK and global poultry industry, Dr Yao explained.

“This was a great opportunity to create a new generation of vaccines,” she said.

“More cost-effective and efficient vaccines will help protect both avian and human health, and potentially deliver major social and economic benefits in the UK and around the world.”

Commercial use

The institute is in discussion with international poultry vaccine manufacturing companies about the potential commercial exploitation of this approach.

The speed the vaccines can be made – and the fact they can be customised to tackle various strains – are exciting developments that could also save vets time and benefit animal welfare, Dr Yao explained.

She said: “The next step will be to make a multivalent vaccine that will protect against more than one disease. This would be labour-saving for vets.”

  • Read the full story in the 30 January issue of Veterinary Times.
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