Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research awards $500,000 to USDA and $150,000 to Kansas State University
The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) recently awarded a US$500,000 Rapid Outcomes from Agriculture Research (ROAR) grant to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and a US$150,000 to Kansas State University to develop safe and rapidly deployable vaccines for African swine fever (ASF) virus, to mitigate the spread and decrease fatalities in case of an outbreak. National Pork Board and MEDIAN Diagnostics provided matching funds for US$1,000,000 and US$300,000 total investments, respectively.
“We have seen the devastating effects of ASFV in other countries, and now is the time to invest in pioneering research that will hopefully spare U.S. swine and pig producers should an outbreak occur in the United States,” said FFAR executive director, Dr. Saharah Moon Chapotin.
ASF virus is a highly contagious, fatal disease in pigs that spreads rapidly. There is no commercially available vaccine for the virus, and the threat to U.S. swine production is significant.
ASF affects pig populations in many countries globally, but has not yet impacted North America. However, if the virus reaches pigs in the United States, there would be significant economic impacts to the agriculture sector, including the commercial availability of pork products. Developing vaccines to protect swine from ASF will further protect pigs and producers across the pork supply chain and global food security.
Led by Dr. Douglas Gladue and Dr. Manuel Borca, USDA researchers are identifying the viral proteins involved in immunity and infection to develop a vector-based subunit vaccine, a vaccine that includes a component of the virus to stimulate an immune response. The research team is also pinpointing serological markers, which are antibodies, that can distinguish between vaccinated and infected pigs using the modified-live vaccine candidate already developed by USDA and is in production in Vietnam.
“We now have a commercially produced live-attenuated vaccine for ASFV and funding from FFAR will allow us to identify the ASFV proteins involved in immunity to this vaccine,” said Gladue. “Funding will also help USDA researchers to identify targets for potential viral vectored, subunit or mRNA vaccines, as the ASFV proteins required for immunity are currently unknown.”
Using a distinct but complementary approach, Kansas State University scientists led by Dr. Waithaka Mwangi are using an adenovirus vector vaccine, which is a tool used to deliver target antigens to the host, and a paper-based diagnostic test that distinguishes vaccinated from infected animals.
“We are grateful to FFAR for partnering with us to advance ASFV subunit vaccine development efforts,” said Mwangi. “This is an important investment that will support a generation of new knowledge needed to develop a safe and effective counter-measure for the threat posed by the ASFV spread to the pork industry.”
Both projects involve development of appropriate diagnostic evaluations, an important complement to the vaccines. The development of a safe and effective ASF vaccine is critical for managing the disease in endemic countries and preventing future outbreaks.
FFAR’s ROAR program deploys urgent funding to support research and outreach in response to emerging or unanticipated threats to the nation’s food supply or agricultural systems.