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Bryan Charleston

Director and Group Head, The Pirbright Institute

Foot and mouth disease virus (FMDV) causes an acute vesicular disease in cattle sheep and pigs, which results in debilitation, pain and loss of productivity. Because of the highly contagious nature of the disease, infection spreads rapidly through susceptible populations of animals and can give rise to severe epidemics.

The Global FMD Research Alliance (GFRA) was launched as an international consortium of five institutions (Pirbright Laboratories, (UK), Plum Island Laboratories, (USA), National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease (Canada), Australian Animal Health Laboratory and the International Livestock Research Institute, Kenya), with a five year research program for developing a new generation of vaccines and other technologies for the control of FMD.

The central core of the GFRA is to establish an alliance between the four high security laboratories, to foster synergism on the current FMD research activities and current gaps to address the needs of their host nations, drawing on public sector funding by individual governments. GFRA will focus on the delivery of a series of products to better manage the incursion of FMD into free areas. Taking advantage of this alliance of global expertise on FMD research, the GFRA will develop a separate program, for the wider control of FMD in endemic areas, bringing to bear the knowledge, expertise and leverage offered by the Alliance partners.

The contribution of the UK laboratory at the The Pirbright Institute will be to develop a vaccination strategy that induces a rapid induction of protective antibody and cell mediated immune responses. Work funded by the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) at the Pirbright Institute to develop immunological correlates of protection against FMDV has indicated how currently available vaccines could be improved. Protection against FMDV has been related to the quantity of serum antibody, however, we have shown protection also depends on the magnitude of the cell mediated response.

Improving vaccine performance will be addressed by two related strategies: firstly, developing vaccines to specifically drive cell mediated immune responses to be used in conjunction with current vaccines; secondly, developing methods to produce stable FMDV capsids on an industrial scale. Analysis of the immune response to a number of different viruses suggests stable capsids are highly effective at driving antibody and cell mediated immune responses, we have evidence to suggest this is also the case for FMDV. In addition to the intrinsic ability of the stable capsid structures to stimulate protective immune responses, they will provide an opportunity to increase antigen payload to improve vaccine efficacy. An added benefit of producing viral capsids is their use in improving diagnostic test.