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Pirbright enters into Belgian partnership to develop ASF antiviral drugs

29th May 2019 / By Alistair Driver

The Pirbright Institute is entering into a partnership with a Belgian company to develop the first antiviral drugs that act against African swine fever (ASF).

The Surrey-based research institure will work with biotechnology company ViroVet on the project. In the absence of a vaccine, antiviral drugs could provide an alternative control method which would help limit clinical signs in pigs and lower virus replication. This could reduce the spread of disease and help to contain outbreaks, ultimately reducing the number of pigs lost to this deadly viral infection, Pirbright said.

The research, part funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) LINK programme, 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.

So far these antivirals have demonstrated at least a 90% reduction in viral replication. The most successful candidates will be further tested at Pirbright’s unique high containment facilities.

Scientists will assess whether the antiviral drugs are effective at preventing 14 different types of ASF virus from replicating in macrophages – immune cells which the virus infects in pigs.

Further research will pinpoint how the antivirals work and allow researchers to optimise the drugs to increase their ability to inhibit replication of a wide range of ASF virus strains. The most efficient candidates will then be trialled in pigs to establish the doses required and safety before testing effectiveness in reducing ASF virus replication and disease in pigs.

Dr Linda Dixon, head of the African Swine Fever Group at Pirbright, said: “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. 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.”

Dr Nesya Goris, chief development officer and co-founder of ViroVet, added: “This joint research will help us select a potent antiviral drug that could stop transmission of ASF from infected animals and prevent spread to healthy pigs. We are extremely proud and honoured to partner with the expert scientists of The Pirbright Institute. The study will help advance the new concept of ASF containment using antiviral drugs.”