Ames, IA (April 18, 2022) – African Swine Fever (ASF) is a highly contagious virus that causes 100 percent mortality in swine and for which there is no commercially available vaccine. While ASF has not yet occurred in the US, an outbreak would cause significant economic harm and could impact food availability. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research awarded a $145,000 grant to Genvax Technologies to develop a self-amplifying messenger RNA (saRNA) vaccine for African Swine Fever in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Services- Plum Island Animal Disease Center (USDA-ARS-PIADC). Matching funds were provided by Genvax Technologies for a total $290,000 investment in innovative ASF vaccine research.
ASF is present in many countries around the world, but to date it has never been detected in the US. Due to its prevalence and deadly consequences in other countries, and the risk of it spreading to the US, it is critical that we are prepared for potential future outbreaks of the virus. 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.
Economic models estimate the worst-case scenario of a US ASF outbreak would result in a $50 billion loss to US pig producers and allied industry. Additionally, as the US exports 20 percent of its annual pork production, an outbreak could affect the availability of US pork on the world market, reducing access to animal protein and impacting global food security.
Genvax Technologies is developing a non-living vaccine composed of self-amplifying messenger RNA, or saRNA. saRNA vaccines are genetically engineered molecules that 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 (CVB) to deploy the vaccine in the US should an outbreak occur.
This research ensures there will be infrastructure and capacity in place to rapidly respond to an ASF outbreak with next generation saRNA vaccine technology. Additionally, the saRNA technology will be adaptable to variants of the ASF virus occurring in new outbreaks of the disease.
“The threat posed by African Swine Fever is extraordinary to both producers and consumers,” said Joel Harris, CEO and co-founder of Genvax Technologies. “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 (DIVA). 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.
Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement USDA’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.
About Genvax Technologies, Inc.
Genvax Technologies is focused on developing novel vaccines for the prevention and treatment of animal diseases. We cultivate new ideas to make our world a better place and strive to create a long-lasting impact on animal health world-wide.