Later this month, the first round of applications will be judged for entry into AgResults’ Brucellosis Vaccine Prize competition. The US $30 million competition launched in November of 2016 and is receiving proposals from animal health innovators to develop a suitable vaccine that is efficacious, safe, and viable for use against Brucella melitensis in small ruminants across the developing world. B. melitensis is a costly and devastating disease that affects over 500 million smallholder farmers worldwide and costs approximately US $641 million annually in productivity, reproduction, and mortality losses.
On the eve of this initial review, we spoke with Jacques Godfroid, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Tromsø - the Arctic University of Norway - and member of the Brucellosis Vaccine Prize Technical Committee about the issues with current vaccines in the developing world, and the need for innovation in the field of brucellosis.
The Brucellosis Vaccine Prize competition focuses on the developing world. Can you give us an insight into why brucellosis is such a widespread issue there?
I feel there are two main issues: firstly, a lack of awareness of the impact of brucellosis on livestock productivity among farmers. And secondly, brucellosis control and eradications schemes for livestock have never been prioritized by the local governments, so there has been a lack of funding for such programs in the developing world.
Why do you think it is an area that has not been prioritized for funding?
Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease – so in order to make it a priority for some authorities to spend money on brucellosis control programs, it is important to make the connection between the control of the disease in animals and the impact that has on the wellbeing and health of people.
What are the restrictions in terms of current control programmes?
For sheep and goats, the main problem is that in a developing country you will have access to the whole livestock population only once a year, and so you have to vaccinate every single animal at that point, regardless of its age and pregnancy status – which means the animal could well be pregnant when vaccinated. Drawbacks associated with the current vaccine mean that it may induce abortion at a rate of up to 100% if given to pregnant animals, so there is definitely a market need for a vaccine that is safer than those currently available.
So you feel a new vaccine would be welcomed by farmers in the developing world?
If the relevant authority or veterinarian is able to tell farmers in developing countries: “by using this product, you will enhance the health and the production of your animals, and it's safe for your animals and for you”, that would make a major impact – not only in the control of the disease but also for the welfare of the people living in the community. That would be a major breakthrough.
Lastly, what would you say to organizations wishing to enter the competition?
I think the important thing to remember is that if we look back over the last 70 years, there has been very little progress in the brucellosis vaccine field for small ruminants, and the way research has been financed has not been successful either – so we need innovation.
Addressing the issue by initiating a ‘pay for results’ competition such as this is very innovative, and hopefully, it will stimulate innovation in vaccine research. It’s a really exciting opportunity for any commercial or research organization with the relevant abilities to help us meet the challenge of controlling this endemic disease, so I would encourage any eligible organizations to take part.
About Dr. Godfroid
A renowned Brucella expert, Dr. Godfroid holds a PhD. in brucellosis control and eradication and specializes in research into zoonotic brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis. Working at the livestock/wildlife/human interface, Jacques brings a One Health perspective to research and has presided over brucellosis task forces and research projects in the European Union and South Africa.
About the Brucellosis Prize
Applications for Phase 1 of the competition are being accepted until November of this year, but the first decisions on allocation of the 10 available Milestone 1 payments of US $100,000 will be taken on February 18th, so applicants are encouraged to apply early to increase the chances of eligibility.
The Brucellosis Vaccine Prize competition is funded by AgResults, a collaborative initiative between the governments of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and managed by the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed).