[NAIROBI] An effective vaccine that languished, underused, for 30 years after its invention has finally been released commercially as a result of a new scheme for getting innovation into practice.
The vaccine protects cattle against the deadly East Coast Fever (ECF), which kills two cows every minute — one million a year — causing economic losses of US$189 million in the 11 countries in eastern and southern Africa where the disease is endemic.
The disease is caused by the parasite Theileria parve, transmitted by brown ear ticks. The East African Veterinary Research Organization, in Muguba, Kenya, developed the vaccine in collaboration with other international organisations 30 years ago. But the first, one-off, batch of 600,000 doses was made only in 1996, by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, with support of the Food and Agriculture Organization.
By 2007 the supply was down to 230,000 doses and there were fears that the vaccine would go out of existence.
The Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed) — a not-for-profit alliance of government, private and public organisations — and the African Union's Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources then began work to support production of further doses, facilitate the vaccine's registration, and form public–private partnerships to commercially produce and distribute the vaccine.
"What was original about this initiative was making a dedicated task force at GALVmed that worked closely with governments and companies in the region to foster new partnerships," Steve Sloan, Chief Executive Officer of GALVmed, told SciDev.Net.
Many lessons have been learned and will be applied in future initiatives with other vaccines in Africa and India, where GALVmed is aiming to remove barriers to vaccine development and deployment, said Sloan.
Phil Toye, project leader for vaccines and diagnostics at ILRI, said that the key problem was working out how to develop a cheap and safe vaccine for mass production whilst ensuring that different strains of T. parva were not introduced into new areas. This is a risk because the vaccine uses the "infection-and-treatment-method" (ITM) in which the live parasite is injected alongside an antibiotic.
"ILRI and its partners have made a decision not to patent ITM so as to make [it] affordable to poor farmers in all the countries in the region," said Henry Kiara, epidemiologist at ILRI.
The vaccine has now been approved and registered by the governments of Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania and is set to be registered in Uganda this year. It will be the first formally registered animal vaccine in Uganda.
The GALVmed project was funded by the UK's Department for International Development and the US-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.