On 27-29 January 2014, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) campus in Kenya hosted discussions on ways to ‘wrestle’ the African cattle disease known as East Coast fever to the ground.
Experts from the fields of East Coast fever research, bovine immunology, parasitology and genomics met to discuss how to develop a new-generation vaccine to protect cattle from this lethal disease. A new ‘subunit’ vaccine could better control this disease that is causing farmers distress and uncertainty in countries of eastern, central and southern Africa where it is now endemic.
Opening the workshop, Jimmy Smith, ILRI’s director general, highlighted three areas that the project will address. First, by developing an improved vaccine for East Coast fever, the project will increase food security by reducing losses of livestock. Second, the project will assist smallholder farmers escape poverty caused by animal losses and enable them to be more secure in their agricultural livelihoods and transform their subsistence practices into commercial farming. Third, the partnerships in this consortium should help to greatly enlarge the depth and breadth of the scientific knowledge in this area.
The project forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish:
This project on East Coast fever will be a critical contribution to the program. Through focused research, it will address a key cattle health constraint in the short run with improved techniques for manufacturing the existing live vaccine, and in the longer run through an even better vaccine. Further, by fitting this effort into a coordinated national program working to address other nutritional and breeding constraints to dairy development, combined with institutional innovations that promote smallholder participation, it will help transform the smallholder dairy value chain in Tanzania – Tom Randolph, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish.
ILRI and others have been working on better control of East Coast fever for many decades. Significant progress has been made, notably the development of the current infection-and-treatment method (ITM) of immunizing cattle against the disease now being deployed in Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania. But the cost of administering this ‘first-generation’ vaccine is costly for smallholder farmers and requires refrigeration to store and transport the vaccine.
Divided in two phases, phase 1 activities on the new project titled ‘Improved vaccines for the control of East Coast fever in cattle in Africa’ will improve aspects of the current sub-optimal live (infection and treatment method – ITM) East Coast fever vaccine, fill knowledge gaps regarding the qualitative and quantitative aspects of acquired immune responses that mediate immunity to East Coast fever and test the vaccine potential of candidate vaccine antigens and develop a more detailed antigen map. These activities will contribute to the project’s goal of developing a broad-spectrum subunit vaccine for the control of East Coast fever (phase 2).
Our recent surveys confirmed East Coast fever as one of the two most important diseases that cattle farmers worry about in Tanzania, where it kills thousands of cattle every year. Moreover, the fear of the disease has made many farmers hesitant to invest in more productive dairy breeds to improve their income. The Livestock and Fish program is working on a pro-poor dairy value chain transformation agenda in Tanzania and overcoming constraints such as East Coast fever is critical to our success – Amos Omore, Tanzania dairy value chain coordinator
The experts were drawn from the Center for Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases (Malawi), GALVmed (UK), the Institute of Tropical Medicine at Antwerp (Belgium), the Institute for Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland (USA), the International Livestock Research Institute (Kenya), the Roslin Institute at University of Edinburgh (UK), the Royal Veterinary College (UK), the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USA) and Washington State University (USA), which together are forming an East Coast fever vaccine consortium.
The project is led by ILRI’s Vish Nene and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Normal Borlaug Commemorative Research Initiative of the US Feed the Future initiative and the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish.
More information on the Project website