The Pirbright Institute has a received a £2.1 million grant from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to conduct research on a novel foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) vaccine. Scientists will investigate the cattle antibody responses triggered by the vaccine which will help them to improve its protective properties. The team will also develop lab-based methods of testing whether the vaccine is effective to reduce the number of animal studies.
The new vaccine is composed of virus like particles (VLPs), which are effectively modified outer shells of the FMD virus (FMDV) that contain no genetic material. Ground-breaking research carried out by Pirbright scientists and their collaborators has already demonstrated that the VLPs are able to protect against four different types of the disease. The Gate’s funded research, led by Professor John Hammond, will look at the cattle antibody response against the vaccine which will enable scientists to develop the second generation of VLPs.
“Using this funding, we will explore the cattle antibody response during vaccination in molecular detail. This will enable us to pinpoint the regions on the surface of FMDV that cattle antibodies recognise to control infection. We can then engineer VLPs to contain more of these antibody sites that are shared between the different types of FMDV to increase the breadth of protection after vaccination,” said Professor Hammond.
The researchers will also develop methods which allow the effectiveness of the vaccine to be established in the lab rather than using current methods which are reliant on studying the immune response to VLPs in animals. This will allow the effective, fast and reliable monitoring of the vaccine when it goes into commercial production, as well as helping scientists to fulfill their commitment to the 3Rs (Refinement, Reduction and Replacement of animals in research).
Existing commercial vaccines are produced by growing live infectious virus, but the VLP vaccine is propagated in insect cells, making VLPs much safer to produce and removing the requirement for high containment facilities. The VLPs have also been engineered to be more stable; making the vaccine much easier to store and reducing the need for constant refrigeration.
This research will complement studies recently funded by the Wellcome Trust to make the manufacture of the VLP vaccine a practical reality and ensure it is commercially viable. The provision of an effective, low cost vaccine will help address the massive shortfall in the availability of FMD vaccines, particularly in Africa where the disease has a huge impact on national and international trade, food security and the health of both humans and animals.