How vaccine platforms can help address neglected livestock diseases
Livestock diseases have major repercussions on the food security, human health and livelihoods of communities that depend on them. Vaccines are among the most effective tools available to control deadly and economically devastating outbreaks. Vaccine platforms — versatile technologies that can produce multiple vaccines using the same underlying system or infrastructure — may hold the key to rapidly and cost-effectively developing vaccines against previously neglected livestock diseases.
Livestock vaccines support healthy communities
As a preventative tool, vaccines are a public good that support healthy and resilient communities, but many endemic diseases still do not have a commercially available vaccine. Part of the problem is that vaccine development is a time and resource-intensive process with a high failure rate. For endemic livestock diseases that primarily affect smallholder farmers in resource-poor settings, the issue is compounded by the fact that veterinary pharmaceutical companies prefer investing in products for which there is a significant, clearly defined market.
The potential of vaccine platforms
A key area of opportunity to speed up timelines and lower costs lies with the development of vaccine platforms. These versatile technologies can rapidly produce multiple vaccines using the same underlying system or infrastructure. To illustrate, consider how two vaccines against the novel coronavirus were designed in a matter of days, rather than months or years as would typically be the case, thanks to pre-existing research and development on messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine technology.
In partnership with Global Affairs Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IDRC supports vaccine development against diseases that have the greatest impact on women and men smallholder farmers around the world through the Livestock Vaccine Innovation Fund (LVIF). LVIF uses innovative approaches to stimulate vaccine development, including by supporting the development of vaccine platforms.
Harnessing new technologies to address neglected livestock diseases
A research team supported by LVIF used a novel nanoparticle platform to develop an mRNA vaccine to protect livestock against multiple strains of foot and mouth disease, which is responsible for losses of up to USD $7 billion ever year. The platform relies on chemical and enzymatic synthesis reactions that may be easily scaled up for production and adapted to target multiple circulating strains of the virus. This represents a considerable improvement over the current vaccines, which use inactivated viruses and do not protect against multiple strains. This work has furthered our understanding of the application of mRNA platforms to diseases of cattle.
Two research teams are working on platforms to increase the production efficacy of vaccines against poultry diseases. Current Newcastle disease vaccines are produced in expensive, specific pathogen-free eggs that are mainly imported from Europe and the United States. One team aims to develop a vaccine against Newcastle disease using adenovirus vectors as a delivery system (the platform) to transfer genetic material directly into the cell of vaccinated poultry to generate an antigen that confers protective immunity. Instead of being produced in specific pathogen-free eggs, this vaccine will be produced in a cell culture system, producing a safer vaccine at a lower cost. The other team is using gene editing methods to produce cell lines that produce higher quantities of viruses for vaccine manufacturing, with a specific focus on avian influenza. Currently, the efficiency of cell line production is limited by antiviral genes that protect the cell lines from virus infections. This new technology could be a valuable platform to increase vaccine yields and lower costs.
Investing in vaccine platforms is investing in epidemic preparedness
The technologies under development by these research teams have potentially far-reaching impacts well beyond the disease or strains they are currently targeting. The benefits of investing in vaccine development platforms also extend to pandemic preparedness. The more vaccine platforms we have at our disposal, the more technologies we have in our toolbox to quickly develop effective vaccines against existing and novel diseases as they emerge.