Pirbright research to boost vaccine production

Scientists at The Pirbright Institute have received money which will enable research into boosting vaccine yields by up to ten fold
calendar icon 12 April 2018
clock icon 4 minute read

The funding was awarded by the Livestock Vaccine Innovation Fund which is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and Canada’s International Development Research Centre.

Numerous vaccines are produced in hen’s eggs or cell lines, but the amount that can be produced is limited by the immune responses that prevent replication of vaccine viruses. The funding will enable previous research carried out by the Genetics and Genomics group at Pirbright to be continued. The researchers were the first to describe a set of immune proteins in the chicken called chIFITMs, which prevent viruses from multiplying in cells.

Dr Mark Fife, research lead and Head of the Genetics and Genomics group, said: “Many vaccines, for both animal and human, are produced by growing a weakened form of the virus in chicken eggs or cells, which are then extracted for use. Although chIFITM may help protect chickens from viral infection, the protein actually hinders vaccine production, as it prevents the weakened virus from replicating at high levels and reduces the amount of vaccine that can be made.

"Our new research will involve using a gene editing system called CRISPR/Cas9 to remove the chIFITM genes in chicken cells, therefore overcoming one of the barriers for viral replication, and boosting the levels of vaccine virus produced. For example, the flu vaccine currently requires two eggs to produce a single dose, but inactivating chIFITM genes could mean only a single egg is needed per dose.”

This increase in yield will make vaccines cheaper to produce and more accessible to livestock owners in developing nations, the main target of this funding. Initially the scientists will focus on increasing flu vaccine yields, but the technique can be applied to multiple livestock viral diseases and potentially human diseases too. Once the researchers have piloted this technique, for which a patent has been filed, they will work with commercial partners to bring this new technology to market.

Throughout the project, scientists at Pirbright will work closely with Horizon Discovery Group plc, a global leader in gene editing and gene modulation technologies. Dr Darrin M Disley, CEO of Horizon Discovery, said: “Gene editing is transforming the life sciences from the earliest stages of academic and drug discovery research through to drug manufacturing and clinical diagnostics, and Horizon is actively supporting our customers and partners at every stage of the process. We are now very pleased to be able to extend our technology and expertise into agricultural applications, providing our support to this critically important project that promises to have a significant impact on vulnerable populations worldwide.”

By 2024, global poultry meat consumption is expected to rise by over 20 million tonnes compared to 2015, and it is therefore essential to maximise outputs worldwide. Poultry production is persistently reduced through viral infection; developing efficient and affordable vaccines against viral diseases will alleviate poverty in developing countries, where these diseases cause devastating consequences for subsistence poultry farming.

This research has the potential to increase vaccine yields between five and ten-fold, which, in an industry where the total revenue for vaccines produced in eggs and cell lines is approximately $14.3 billion, can make vast differences to manufacturing costs which will in turn enable vaccine prices to be reduced. The project is set to run for four years, so this new technology could be commercially available as early as 2021.

As reported by the Pirbright Institute

Ryan Johnson

Editor at The Poultry Site

Ryan worked in conservation from 2008 to 2017, during which time he operated a rainbow trout hatchery and helped to maintain public and protected green spaces in Canada for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. As editor of The Poultry Site, he now writes about challenges and opportunities in agriculture across the globe.

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