Dr David Williams, from the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness … scientists have not yet been able to develop a completely safe and effective vaccine against ASF (Photo: CSIRO)

November 9, 2023

Australian and American scientists are teaming up to tackle one of animal science’s biggest challenges: a safe and effective vaccine against African Swine Fever.

A viral pandemic of ASF has been devastating the world’s pig industries, but so far has not been detected in Australia.

However, it has spread through Asia and is now found in Indonesia, Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea

ASF is highly contagious and can kill up to 100 per cent of pigs it infects.

Thankfully, the virus does not pass to humans and affected pork is safe for human consumption however it has been estimated a small-scale outbreak in domestic pigs in Australia, followed by eradication of the disease, could cost between $667 million to $800 million.

A large-scale outbreak could cost $1.5 to $2 billion.

The CSIRO is working with US biotech firm MBF Therapeutics to evaluate a new DNA vaccine for ASF.

The scientists will evaluate the vaccine in secure laboratories at CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness, a biocontainment facility in Geelong.

Dr David Williams said despite the threat that ASF posed, scientists had not yet been able to develop a completely safe and effective vaccine.

“While first-generation vaccines have recently been approved for use in some parts of Asia, these are weakened live virus vaccines which have potential to revert back to a disease-causing form and can cause side effects in sows and pigs with infections or other illnesses,” Dr Williams said.

“CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness is one of the few labs in the world that can safely work with the virus. We’ll be bringing all our diagnostic tools, reagents and research capability to this challenge, and learning from the experience for future research.”

MBF Therapeutics CEO Thomas Tille, said the DNA vaccine platform was based on technology adapted from immunotherapeutic treatment of human cancer, and aimed to eliminate pathogens as they entered the body.

“Dr Williams’ and CSIRO’s expertise in the field of African swine fever, combined with MBF Therapeutics’ innovative T-Max Precision vaccine platform, provides an opportunity to work towards a truly safe and effective African swine fever vaccine,” Mr Tillet said.

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