FFAR grant develops additional African swine fever vaccines

African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV) is a highly contagious, fatal disease in pigs that spreads rapidly. There is no commercially available vaccine for the virus, and the threat to US swine production is significant. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) recently awarded a $500,000 Rapid Outcomes from Agriculture Research (ROAR) grant to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and a $150,000 to Kansas State University to develop safe and rapidly deployable vaccines for ASFV, to mitigate the spread and decrease fatalities in case of an outbreak. National Pork Board and MEDIAN Diagnostics provided matching funds for $1,000,000 and $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 US swine and pig producers should an outbreak to occur in the United States," said Saharah Moon Chapotin, executive director of FFAR.

ASFV 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 ASFV 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 identified in the serum, that can distinguish between vaccinated and infected pigs using the modified-live vaccine candidate already developed by USDA that is currently under 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 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," Mwangi said. "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 ASFV vaccine is critical for managing the disease in endemic countries and preventing future outbreaks.