Could Antivirals Help Control African Swine Fever?

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Britain’s Pirbright Institute is partnering with Belgian biotechnology company ViroVet to develop the first antiviral drugs that act against African swine fever (ASF).

Currently, there is no effective vaccine for ASF, a highly transmissible virus of pigs. Scientists who work on animal vaccines have sounded a note of caution regarding news of vaccine progress, saying that developing and launching an effective vaccine for ASF would be difficult.

On May 21, Greg Ibach, USDA’s undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said an ASF vaccine could take another eight years during a House livestock and foreign agriculture subcommittee hearing.

“Without a viable vaccine, ASF is incredibly difficult to control owing to its ability to be spread by wild boar and through the consumption of contaminated pork and other products by pigs,” said Linda Dixon, head of the African Swine Fever Group at Pirbright. “Having a tool which could lower the risk of further transmission once pigs have been infected would go a long way in preventing the rapid spread of this disease.”

Antiviral drugs are currently used in human medicine to treat diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis C for which no vaccines are available and have served as an effective control method for classical swine fever, Reuters reported.

Erwin Blomsma, CEO and co-founder at ViroVet, said the researchers will test antiviral drugs that have already been screened in the laboratory by ViroVet and shown to reduce viral replication in cells in the absence of cellular toxicity. To date, these antivirals have demonstrated at least a 90% reduction in viral replication. The most successful candidates will be further tested at Pirbright.

According to a statement by ViroVet, scientists will determine whether the antiviral drugs are effective at preventing 14 different types of ASF virus from replicating in macrophages. Further research will identify how the antivirals work and allow researchers to optimize the drugs to increase their ability to inhibit replication of a wide range of ASF virus strains. 

Blomsma said the best candidates will then be studied in pigs to establish the doses required and safety before testing effectiveness in reducing ASF virus replication and disease in pigs.

ASF impacts pigs only and is not transmissible to humans. ASF does not affect food safety. For more information, visit porkbusiness.com/ASF.


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