Genvax Technologies, a startup animal vaccine company located in Ames, has been awarded a $145,000 grant to develop a vaccine for African Swine Fever (ASF). The grant money comes from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR). Matching funds were provided by Genvax Technologies for a total $290,000 investment in ASF vaccine research.
African Swine Fever is a highly contagious virus that causes 100 percent mortality in swine and for which there is no commercially available vaccine. ASF is present in many countries around the world, but to date it has never been detected in the US. ASF is not a threat to human health as it cannot be transmitted from pigs to humans; however, the high mortality rates it causes in pigs would significantly disrupt US pork producers and the economy.
Genvax Technologies is developing a non-living vaccine composed of self-amplifying messenger RNA, or saRNA. saRNA vaccines trigger the immune system to make antibodies that can successfully attack and destroy an invading virus. Researchers will test the vaccine at USDA-ARS’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center to determine if the vaccine will protect swine when exposed to a virulent, or severe, strain of the virus. If successful, Gevnax Technologies will seek approval from USDA-Center for Veterinary Biologics to deploy the vaccine in the US should an outbreak occur.
“The threat posed by African Swine Fever is extraordinary to both producers and consumers,” said Joel Harris, CEO and co-founder of Genvax Technologies in a release. “The creation, testing and regulatory approval of the vaccine will be a real joint effort by the USDA’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center, the Center for Veterinary Biologics and Genvax. The goal is to get a vaccine in the field that matches 100 percent to the specific ASF strain if an outbreak were to occur. This vaccine will also be compatible with diagnostic tests that can differentiate infected from vaccinated animals. This makes our vaccine an important tool for eradication efforts and may alleviate any concerns with trading partners abroad.”
FFAR awarded this grant through the Rapid Outcomes from Agricultural Research (ROAR) program, which deploys urgent funding to support research and outreach in response to emerging or unanticipated threats to the nation’s food supply or agricultural systems.
“We have already seen the effects of this highly contagious, deadly virus in countries across the world. If ASF reaches the US, we need to be prepared with an effective vaccine that can protect the US swine industry,” said FFAR Scientific Program Director Dr. Tim Kurt. “We have learned from the COVID pandemic that RNA vaccines can be produced rapidly and adapted for different variants; now it’s time to apply those learnings to improve animal health.”