Eradicating Bovine TB

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 Eradicating Bovine TB

It would not be an exaggeration to call Bovine TB an enormous problem, causing substantial losses to the farming industry as well as being a point of animal welfare concern. One person who thinks he might have the answer to this problem is Dr Ramon A. Juste of the WILDTBVAC Project.

Bovine TB is a disease caused by bacteria of the genus Mycobacterium that affects a large number of animals worldwide. Recent studies have estimated that some 50 million cases occur in livestock each year at a cost of two to three billion Euros. Outbreaks don’t just impact farmers; there is a knock-on effect all the way up the agricultural value chain from government to producers and even consumers. As the disease can progress very slowly and be found in both wild and domestic animal populations, suppressing the disease is possible but eliminating it is a much larger battle.

“By the early 2000s, after a period in which eradication seemed to be at arm’s reach, it became apparent that bovine TB was once again a significant problem for the livestock industry,” recalls Dr Ramon Juste. An expert in epidemiology and the control of slow infections, Juste’s research background has equipped him with experience vital for combating the disease. “I began work on paratuberculosis, caused by the Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis, in the early eighties, when there was an outbreak in a Basque herd for which we had no control tools,” he explains. “My team managed to make progress in isolating the bacteria causing the disease in small ruminants, and since then we have been carrying out several projects in this field. Recently however, we have begun to collaborate with other groups on the problem of tuberculosis as it has become more prominent.”

The role of wildlife in the maintenance of TB in cattle production systems has been a big issue for not only Spain but also in the UK and Ireland, where badgers have been linked to infections. Seizing on this observation, Juste and his team decided to apply a type of paratuberculosis remedy - an inactivated vaccine - to tuberculosis, a plan that went against popular thinking.

“To test our hypothesis, we got funding from the EU 7th framework programme and conducted a series of experiments in which we administered a live TB vaccine, BCG, and a vaccine produced by killing a strain that we had isolated from wild boar in our lab. These animals – along with deer – seem to be the main reservoirs of the disease in southern Spain,” says Juste. “We found that our vaccine delivered protection at least as effectively as BCG, but without any biological risk, since it’s an inactivated vaccine and thus cannot evolve into potentially virulent forms, as the live vaccines such as BCG could have the potential to do.”

Such as BCG could have the potential to do.” Based on this success, Juste and his partners have launched a follow-up project – WILDTBVAC - that seeks to lay the grounds for industrialisation of their pilot vaccine. The WILDTBVAC project will come to close in November 2015 after two years of work, by which time it intends to have devised an economically viable means of deploying this new treatment.

Led by Dr. Juste, who is based at NEIKER-TECNALIA, an organization that provides innovative services to the food and agriculture sectors, the venture unites eight partners with diverse interests and expertise. Located in Spain, Italy, Switzerland and the UK, the group’s members include two university-based groups, SaBio and VISAVET, two veterinary products companies, INGENASA and VACUNEK in Spain, the Swiss animal diagnostics firm Prionics AG, Britain’s government agency APHLA, and the Italian National Institute of Health. For more on WILDTBVAC see www.wildtbvac.eu