SD company says USDA-approved science could help HPAI outbreak

An animal health company in South Dakota is taking a different approach to speed up the development of a Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza vaccine.

HPAI continues to affect commercial and backyard flocks across the United States. As of late April, USDA says more than 58.7 million birds have been affected by the virus.

Medgene’s Chief Technology Officer Alan Young says the company has developed a two-dose vaccine to address different strains of avian influenza using USDA approved platform-based technology for hogs and cattle.

“In animals, one of the most successful vaccines marketed by another company is porcine circovirus. We use that same thing, it is inactivated,” says Young. “All that we swap out is the protein of interest. That’s what allows us to make an influenza vaccine and an H5 vaccine. We get a sequence via email and we can make the vaccine.”

CEO Mark Luecke says the safety of the vaccine technology will be studied for six weeks, starting at the end of May, with Medgene evaluating the response from turkeys with regular avian influenza.

“Once we show USDA it’s a safe vaccine, we’ll have our platform technology approved for turkeys.”

Luecke says USDA has plans to review the safety of the technology for chickens affected with HPAI this summer. And Young says that’s an important step in the process.

“As soon as we’re confident we have something that works and USDA agrees, in principle, we’re good to go,” says Young. “Compared to a normal licensing pathway where there’s a bunch of steps after that.”

Young says he is optimistic this system will allow the industry to respond to different strains of HPAI faster. But Luecke says farmers should not expect approval from USDA for a HPAI-specific vaccine in the short-term, because there are international safety hurdles USDA must work through.

“Once a country vaccinates, the way the trade agreements are written you stop trade because you’re acknowledging you’ve got the problem.”

However, Luecke says with USDA’s approval, the platform-based technology vaccine would be ready when the agency says it’s time to vaccinate the U.S. poultry population against HPAI. Read more.

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