The Pirbright Institute has secured funding to enable them to carry out research into a method of increasing the output of vaccine production between five and ten-fold.
The funding has been provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is aimed at livestock owners in the developing world. Providing developing countries with greater access to cheaper vaccines for their animals could have a positive impact on animal health and ultimately output.
Dr Mark Fife of Pirbright says: “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.”
He says the antigens must then be released and isolated from any traces of protein or growth medium. The virus then goes through purification and preservatives and stabilisers may be added to prolong shelf life.
The amount of vaccine that can be produced using a hen’s egg is limited by the immune responses that prevent replication of vaccine viruses. These immune responses are triggered by immune proteins in the chicken called chIFITMs, they prevent viruses from multiplying in cells and therefore become a limiting factor to vaccine production.
"Our new research will involve using a gene editing system 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.” Says Dr Fife.
This increase in yield will make vaccines cheaper to produce and therefore to farmers in the developing world helping to improve farming practises and in turn ease poverty.
Dr Darrin M Disley of Horizon Discovery, the gene editing company who will be working closely with Pirbright says: “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.”