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MLA funds mRNA technology project to rapidly produce emergency animal disease vaccines

02 May 2023

Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) has recently funded a project to produce and test mRNA vaccines that can be rapidly mass produced in Australia in the event of a lumpy skin disease (LSD) or other exotic disease outbreak.

Here, MLA’s Program Manager for Animal Wellbeing, Michael Laurence explains more about this project and what it will deliver.

“This project will develop a mRNA vaccine pipeline initially for LSD, but potentially for other emergency diseases,” Michael said.

“This will enable capacity for rapid mass production of a vaccine for LSD in the event of an outbreak.

“No LSD vaccines are registered for use in Australia yet. While some killed vaccines exist overseas, the path to registration in Australia for traditionally-produced is longer than that of an mRNA vaccine.”

It took just a few months to make the vaccine constructs which is a very short timeline compared to traditional vaccine development.

“The LSD vaccine construct is now being tested for efficacy in animals. By the end of this year, we will know if this vaccine will work in ruminants,” Michael said.

The role of mRNA-based vaccines

Australia faces increasing biosecurity threats to its animal populations which have far reaching economic, social and animal welfare impacts. Next-generation (mRNA-based) vaccine technologies may provide a game-changing approach to emergency disease preparedness.

“If properly harnessed, this technology could be used as one of the effective tools in a rapid response to outbreaks – enabling eradication and return to disease freedom status,” Michael said.   

“Live vaccines cannot be imported to Australia. The establishment of the capacity to produce a vaccine for LSD is the priority that will provide the Australian cattle and other ruminant industries with insurance against an imminent biosecurity threat that would have far reaching trade, animal health and economic implications.”

Predicted high vaccine efficacy provides a realistic pathway to the management and control of an LSD outbreak in Australia.

“Further, the nature of mRNA vaccines enables the development of laboratory tests to distinguish the immune response in vaccinated animals from natural infection. Success of this project might provide a pilot vaccine suitable for use in Australia in less than two years,” Michael said.

Further investment in the pipeline

The establishment of an mRNA production capability and development of an LSD vaccine will be the initial flagship, stand-alone project within a larger program: Adoption of RNA technology to rapidly produce vaccines for emergency animal disease.

“The larger program unites a network of expertise to bring the advantages of next-generation vaccine technologies to the livestock industries and potentially provide a game-changing solution to enhance biosecurity in Australia,” Michael said.

“The program includes mRNA vaccine development for the two main strains of foot-and-mouth disease as well as exotic Bovine pestivirus and Border disease in sheep. Updates on this project will be provided as it advances.”

The proposed over-arching five-year program will secure licenced mRNA vaccine technology and activate an independent livestock vaccine development and production pathway based on newly established scientific capacity and infrastructure. This will ultimately result in the stored vaccine constructs produced from this project to respond quickly to incursion of multiple diseases through rapid production of vaccines.