GERMANY, Gatersleben. When an infectious disease breaks out, there is often only one method to contain it - the culling of useful birds. However, a quick and inexpensive vaccination could soon offer a new alternative.
In years of close cooperation, researchers at the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Cultivated Plants Research (IPK) in Gatersleben and the Institute of Biotechnlology (IBT) in Vietnam's capital Hanoi have developed a method for the production of bird flu vaccines in plants.
The IPK announced that a new project will focus on the practical application of the previous results and on the development of cheap and stable avian influenza vaccines and that these will be used as soon as possible to avert further avian flu epidemics. In addition to endangering animals and humans, avian influenza epidemics can significantly affect poultry meat and egg production in regions. Previous efforts to contain outbreaks of avian influenza have resulted in the killing of many millions of birds worldwide. But especially in developing countries, where poultry production makes a significant contribution to nutrition, livestock farmers are reluctant to take this measure, the IPK stresses.
In order to react to new outbreaks, suitable vaccines must be developed and made available as quickly as possible. The traditional production of vaccines in embryo chicken eggs takes five to six months. A modern alternative is the production of so-called "subunit vaccines" in plants. According to IPK, the advantages of this method are not only short production times, which enable rapid adaptation to changing viruses in the field, but also low production costs, simple scalability and low infrastructure costs. Scientists from the IPK phytoantibody working group led by Prof. Udo Conrad and IBT researchers have already worked on an effective method for the production of such plant-based peptide vaccines in a previous project. As a result, they were able to produce haemagglutinin multimers, special avian influenza antigens, in tobacco plants and show their neutralizing immune responses in mice.
The new IPK and IBT project was launched at the beginning of 2019. Together with the Vietnamese company Navetco, which is active in the field of bird flu vaccination, they are working on the rapid and cost-effective production of vaccines against bird flu pathogens. The first step is the practical application of the basic research results. In the next step, challenge experiments on chickens are planned to test the robustness of the developed method in practice.
The long-term goal of the researchers is the development of a peptide vaccine against avian influenza produced in plants. With this, they hope to soon be able to offer a new method for the containment and prevention of further avian influenza pandemics.