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Breakthrough vaccine vehicle for sheep and goats using trypanosomes

Roslin Technologies, the UK’s specialist AgTech venture builder, is developing a unique vehicle to deliver vaccines to sheep and goats, using technology generated from a harmless single cell parasite found on a remote island in the North Atlantic.

Sheep on St Kilda
Parasites from sheep on St Kilda are being used to develop novel vaccines.

This vaccine vehicle forms part of the company’s growing portfolio of innovative tools to combat livestock infectious disease

The vaccine vehicle under development can be manipulated by scientists to host proteins for a wide range of maladies, whether transmitted via a virus, bacterium or parasite.

Initially, the team are investigating creating a vaccine to tackle peste des petits ruminants virus (PPRV), a highly infectious disease that threatens 80% of the global population of sheep and goats and is a significant problem in Asia and Africa — a recent outbreak of the disease has been witnessed in China.

 The non-pathogenic Trypanosoma melophagium parasite, the basis of the vehicle, was isolated by University of Edinburgh scientists on St Kilda, a Scottish island 40 miles from the outer Hebrides that was evacuated of its inhabitants in 1930 and is now home to wild Soay sheep, wildlife and researchers. 

The parasite is spread by sheep keds – a wingless insect — and is usually absent in the UK’s 16 million farmed sheep which tend to be dipped to eliminate other parasitic infestations.  Although distantly related to South American trypanosomes causing human Chagas disease, T. melophagium cannot infect humans or other animals beyond sheep or goats.

Our major advance is that we will be able to immunise sheep against a wide range of pathogens using a harmless organism that they naturally harbour”

Prof. Keith Matthews, FRSProject Principal Investigator, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh,

Addressing global infectious disease

It is estimated that there are around 2 billion small ruminants farmed globally; all of these are subject to challenge from a wide range of infectious diseases. Such diseases remain endemic in many regions and have devastating outcomes on animal health and productivity that impact national and international trade.

Threats from old and new infectious diseases continue to emerge, fuelled by changes in the environment, in farming practices and in the demography and connectivity of today’s ‘global’ village. 

 The vehicle is engineered to express candidate vaccine proteins. The efficiency with which the parasite spreads throughout the body aids the delivery of these proteins to the host immune system and its potential persistency can help reduce the number of interventions — follow-on boosters for example — inherent in other vaccine delivery methods.

With such huge potential, we are eager to gather together partners who can deploy this technology to improve vaccine performance and increase the number of pathogens that can be targeted.

Dr Karen Fairlie-ClarkeInnovation and Engagement Manager for Roslin Technologies

 The new vaccine vehicle will also be exploited to provide a novel platform for expressing target proteins for vaccines which need improvement or for evaluating new candidates for diseases for which vaccines have proved challenging to develop or for emerging diseases.

As the vehicle is quick and easy to reengineer, it should be straightforward to target new antigen expression where strain variations in pathogens emerge.

Improving animal health and welfare

The project is part of Roslin Technologies’ mission to develop the science of sustainable protein, helping to make the food chain more efficient and to increase animal health and welfare.

Commercially, the vaccine market for the world’s 1 billion sheep and 900 million goats is considerable — the total global animal vaccine market was worth $8.2 billion in 2018, according to estimates from Grand View Research. 

The potency of the vehicle and its ability to sustain immunity long-term will be particularly useful to farmers in remote areas or in developing countries where multiple vaccine interventions are not practical and too costly.

We are excited to see this pioneering technology developed from fundamental research by Prof Matthews at the University of Edinburgh progress towards commercialisation with Roslin Technologies.  This is a great example of University and company collaboration to create new technology for improved animal welfare and output in farming.

Dr Axel ThomsonBusiness Development Executive at Edinburgh Innovations, University of Edinburgh

The technology is being developed with funding from the BBSRC Impact Accelerator Account.

More information

Contact Karen Fairlie-Clarke

Innovation & Engagement Manager, Roslin Technologies Limited karen.fairlie-clarke@roslintech.com

Related Links

Roslin Technologies

Keith Matthews Lab

School of Biological Sciences

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)