New Delhi: In a major breakthrough, British scientists claim to have developed a synthetic vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) - a fatal viral disease that is considered a severe plague for animal farming due to its highly infectious nature.
The much easier and safer technology used in the development of the livestock vaccination might also be applied to make improved human vaccines to protect against similar viruses, including polio.
What comes as a breakthrough is the fact that the new technology eliminates the need to use potentially dangerous live virus to immunise animals.
So far, vaccines made of live viruses were used to treat the highly infectious disease, which requires the expensive cold chain to ensure that no pathogens escape, making the production highly expensive and risky.
In contrast to standard FMD livestock vaccines, the new product is made from synthetic empty protein shells containing no infectious viral genome, scientists reported in the journal PLOS Pathogens on Wednesday.
This means the vaccine can be produced without expensive bio-security and does not need to be kept refrigerated - overcoming one of the major hurdles in administering vaccines in the developing world.
Worldwide, between 3 billion and 4 billion doses of FMD vaccine are administered every year but there are shortages in many parts of Asia and Africa were the disease is a serious problem.
Current standard vaccines are based on 50-year-old technology, although US biotech company GenVec last year won US approval for a new one.
The purely synthetic British vaccine has so far been tested in small-scale cattle trials and found to be effective. The vaccine, however, will not be available commercially for between six to eight years.
The breakthrough is the result of a seven-year, 6 million pound collaboration between publicly funded researchers at the Pirbright Institute, Diamond Light Source and Oxford and Reading universities.
With Agency Inputs