UK scientists develop synthetic foot-and-mouth vaccine

Researchers at Pirbright Laboratory in Surrey have developed a synthetic foot-and-mouth vaccine which mimics an “empty shell” of the virus to trigger an immune response without posing health risks.

The development is reported in The Telegraph (here).

The synthetic vaccine could be used as an alternative to culling livestock without the risk of releasing live virus into the wild, according to researchers.

Previous vaccines for the disease, which affects cattle, sheep and pigs in the UK, have used small amounts of the live virus which allow animals to develop immunity.

But authorities often decide to cull animals instead because manufacturing such a vaccine in the lab risks a release into the wild, as happened in 2007 when the virus escaped from the Pirbright Laboratory in Surry and caused a local outbreak.

Using the virus also damages the export market because it is difficult to tell from blood tests which animals have contracted the disease and which have merely been vaccinated against it.

Now experts from Pirbright have developed a synthetic alternative which mimics an “empty shell” of the virus to trigger an immune response without posing any health risk.

Tests on a prototype, which targets one of the seven strains of the virus, showed it is as effective as current vaccines.

A commercial version could be widely available within six to eight years, researchers reported in the PLOS Pathogens journal.

The new vaccine would cause the animals to develop different antibodies which only target the virus’s protein shell, meaning it would be easy to tell which had been infected and which had not.

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