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Vaccine R&D Underway to Protect Against Animal Microbes

Row of cows


18 April 2017. Research is underway in the U.K. on development of new vaccines to protect humans against zoonotic diseases, infectious diseases originating in animals. The lab of molecular biologist Michael Jarvis at University of Plymouth is receiving £408,000 ($US 518,000) from Innovate UK, the government’s science and technology innovation agency, to develop the new vaccines.

Zoonotic diseases are any communicable conditions naturally transferred from animals to humans. World Health Organization says some 200 of these animal-to-human diseases are known and described, and cover infections spread by bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses. Reducing risks from these diseases, says WHO, gets tricky because of the complex interactions between animals and humans, which often require expertise and resources in human and animal health.

Among the more well-known zoonotic diseases are the Ebola virus, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, Lassa fever, and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. Zoonotic infections now spread faster than before due to modern travel that easily moves individuals and infections between rural regions where contact with animals is frequent and modern urban societies where animal contact is rare. WHO also notes that climate change is driving deforestation in many regions, bringing urban populations in closer contact with infected animals.

Jarvis and colleagues plan to design a Zoonoses Barrier Vaccine, a new type of vaccine administered to animals, but designed to protect humans. The Plymouth team plans to build its vaccine technology with bovine herpesvirus, an infection in cattle affecting the brain and reproductive organs, which will act as a platform for individual vaccines to create an immune response against similar diseases infecting farm animals.

The researchers expect to begin with vaccines against Rift Valley fever and Q fever. Rift Valley fever is spread with a virus mainly from livestock to humans who come into contact with infected blood or organs. Q fever is spread by bacteria also from sheep, goats, and cattle to humans, particularly individuals working in farming, veterinary medicine, and animal research. The team anticipates engineering an attenuated or weakened pathogen to generate immune responses, but not affect the overall health of the animals.

The Plymouth researchers plan to advance their vaccines through the proof-of-concept phase. In a university statement Jarvis calls the support of Innovate UK, “critical to develop this innovative vaccine platform, in this case for two pathogens that are lethal to both agricultural animals as well as to the vets and farmers that are exposed to infected animals.”

Innovate UK supports research in science and technology with economic growth potential. In addition, the agency says it helps researchers start their own businesses and puts scientists with commercially-viable discoveries together with potential partners.

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