Onderstepoort signs agreement to develop vaccine for deadly 'snotsiekte'

03 March 2021 - 16:25
Onderstepoort Biological Products has signed a licensing agreement to acquire the technology that will lead to the production of a vaccine against bovine malignant catarrhal fever. File photo.
Onderstepoort Biological Products has signed a licensing agreement to acquire the technology that will lead to the production of a vaccine against bovine malignant catarrhal fever. File photo.
Image: Aurélie Le Moigne/123rf.com

Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) has signed a licensing agreement with a Scottish company to acquire the technology that will lead to the production of the vaccine against bovine malignant catarrhal fever (BMC).

The state-owned vaccine manufacturer signed the agreement with Moredun Research Institute.

BMC, commonly known as “snotsiekte”, is a notifiable and untreatable viral disease found in cattle, and is predominantly transmitted by black and blue wildebeest.

The disease has been causing serious losses in the cattle farming community over the past few decades in SA.

The signing of the agreement could be seen as a scoop for OBP as there is no other BMC vaccine available, so it could be made available to other countries in southern and east Africa where the disease causes problems.

Veterinarian and game farmer Dr Peter Oberem said the virus is carried specifically by healthy wildebeest.

He said when the wildebeest become stressed, due to calving or weaning, their immunity is suppressed and they shed the snotsiekte virus from the respiratory tract.

“Cattle within a vicinity of a kilometre of these shedding wildebeest will begin to show symptoms, a month or more after exposure.”

Thousands of cattle die annually from the disease, which has caused economic losses for cattle farmers.

There is no effective treatment known for the disease, and while moving cattle away from wildebeest during high-risk periods helps, having a vaccine will add a layer of protection to herds of cattle, especially where movement of animals may not be practical.

Dr Sello Maboe, veterinarian and technical manager at OBP, said the availability of an effective vaccine will be a huge milestone for food security and the control of the disease.

Dr George Russell, principal scientist at the Moredun Research Institute, said it has been working on a vaccine for the disease for more than 15 years.

He said after successful experimental and field trials of the vaccine in the UK, Kenya and SA, Moredun has entered into a partnership with OBP to further develop the vaccine for use in Africa.

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