Infectious diseases continue to be a leading cause of sickness and death in livestock and are of concern to human health due to their potential to be transferred to people. Vaccination is the most cost-effective means of preventing infectious disease in animals and humans, but its application to livestock is still limited, and the lack of effective vaccines contributes to the excessive use of antibiotics in animal health.

A new research project funded by Genome British Columbia (Genome BC), Genome Canada and other partners endeavours to use ‘reverse vaccinology’ to develop vaccines for Johne’s disease and bovine tuberculosis in cattle. These diseases result in annual losses of more than $86 million and $10 million, respectively, in Canada and billions annually worldwide.

Reverse Vaccinology Approach for the Prevention of Mycobacterial Disease in Cattle, led by the University of British Columbia’s Dr. Bob Hancock and the University of Saskatchewan’s Dr. Andrew Potter, is funded for $7.3 million and anticipates the start of field testing for the vaccine within the project’s four-year time frame.

“The process of reverse vaccinology provides a much more efficient and effective method of developing vaccines, through the parallel identification and expression of every possible antigen, while simultaneously screening for vaccine potential,” says Dr. Bob Hancock, Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, UBC. “Another key facet of the project is investigating public perceptions and industrial readiness, the commercialization strategies and regulatory framework and support systems.”

The major deliverables of this project will be two new vaccines for important diseases influencing the food and dairy industries, companion diagnostics that will differentiate vaccinated from infected animals, and a white paper to inform the public, producers, industry and government on the options and strategies for dealing with these important cattle diseases.

“Genome BC’s earlier investment into this project through our Strategic Opportunities Fund enabled the team to take a first step – producing antigens – that demonstrated that their reverse vaccinology approach would work,” says Dr. Alan Winter, President & CEO of Genome British Columbia. “It is gratifying to have both regional and federal investment into this important research because it will make a difference in ensuring a safe and healthy food supply for future generations.”

The vaccines developed through this project will benefit dairy and beef cattle farmers, the public who utilize their products and the commercial sector, both in terms of marketable vaccines, increased food and dairy product output, and international trade. Direct economic losses to livestock producers are large, but these are dwarfed by the losses associated with international trade restrictions as has been seen in Canada with mad cow disease, avian influenza and other diseases.

The project was funded through Genome Canada’s 2014 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition: Genomics and Feeding the Future. Other funding partners include the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac), the University of Saskatchewan’s Office of the Vice-President Research, and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute.

About Genome British Columbia:

Genome British Columbia is a catalyst for the life sciences cluster on Canada’s West Coast, and manages a cumulative portfolio of over $710M in 254 research projects and science and technology platforms. Working with governments, academia and industry across sectors such as forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, agri-food, energy and mining, environment, and human health, the goal of the organization is to generate social and economic benefits for British Columbia and Canada. Genome BC is supported by the Province of British Columbia, the Government of Canada through Genome Canada and Western Economic Diversification Canada and more than 300 international public and private co-funding partners.  www.genomebc.ca