INSIGHT

Scientists team up to combat African swine fever

AUSTRALIAN scientists have teamed up with researchers in the United States to develop a safe and effective vaccine against African swine fever.

Staff Writer
 African swine fever expert at CSIRO's Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP), Dr David Williams, said scientists are yet to develop a completely safe and effective vaccine against the virus. Photo courtesy of CSIRO.

African swine fever expert at CSIRO's Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP), Dr David Williams, said scientists are yet to develop a completely safe and effective vaccine against the virus. Photo courtesy of CSIRO.

CSIRO is working with US biotech firm MBF Therapeutics to evaluate its novel DNA vaccine contender for the viral pandemic that has devasted the world's pig industries.

Scientists will evaluate the vaccine in secure laboratories at CSIRO's Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP)- a high biocontainment facility in Geelong, Victoria, designed to safely enable research into the world's most dangerous diseases.

MBF Therapeutics chief executive officer, Thomas Tillett, said the DNA vaccine platform is based on technology adapted from immunotherapeutic treatment of human cancer, and aims to eliminate pathogens as they enter the body.

Tillet said CSIRO's expertise in the field of African swine fever, combined with MBF Therapeutics' innovative T-Max Precision vaccine platform, provides an opportunity to work towards a truly safe and effective African swine fever vaccine.

"MBF Therapeutics' ultimate goal is to create a vaccine that can be used safely in all stages of swine production, including sows, while preventing disease in individual animals and limiting transmission within the herd and environment," he said.

While Australia has never had an outbreak of African swine fever, the disease has recently spread through Asia and is now found in Indonesia, Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea.

With millions of pigs killed by the virus, it is thought to be the worst livestock pandemic in history.

CSIRO said it has been estimated a small-scale outbreak in domestic pigs in Australia, followed by eradication of the disease, would cost $667 million to $800 million, while a large-scale outbreak would cost up to two billion dollars. 

Despite this threat, ACDP African swine fever expert, Dr David Williams, said scientists have not been able to develop a completely safe and effective vaccine.

"While first-generation vaccines have recently been approved for use in some parts of Asia, these are weakened live virus vaccines, which have potential to revert back to a disease-causing form and can cause side effects in sows and pigs with infections or other illnesses," Williams said.

"CSIRO's Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness is one of the few labs in the world that can safely work with the virus.

"We'll be bringing all our diagnostic tools, reagents and research capability to this challenge, and learning from the experience for future research."

The work is part of CSIRO's Immune Resilience Future Science Platform, a program which uses new and emerging technologies to accelerate a deeper understanding of the immune systems of both humans and animals.

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