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GALVmed brucellosis vaccine project begins to result in R&D advancements

At a time when veterinary vaccine development is under a microscope due to the growing presence of African swine fever (ASF), Animal Pharm editor Joseph Harvey spoke to Gwynneth Clay – senior project manager of the Brucellosis Vaccine Prize initiative at the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed) – to find out how this project is stimulating R&D in an underserved area.

The Brucellosis Vaccine Prize competition – AgResults' $30 million multi-donor mission, implemented by GALVmed – has now been open for two years.

Gwynneth Clay leads the project and is open about the intricacy of the initiative.

"It's a complex process," she explained. "When we started this whole process, we realized there would be limited benchmarking opportunities, as this type of project has not happened before – certainly not in animal health. I come from a background in human health, where there are a few examples of these incentive-based initiatives."

Ms Clay said the competition was an industry first in terms of its format and the way it brings funding to an under-served area of vaccine development for small ruminants. The project is a "great way" to stimulate funding and R&D in an area of animal health that has not hit the headlines in recent years in the way other diseases have, she noted.

"We've been amazed by the response," she said. "Brucellosis was certainly not a hot topic when we started this. We originally had 40 applications, which was great. We were pleasantly surprised by the level of diversity among the applicants too. They ranged from some of the larger animal health companies to smaller companies and academic organizations too."

This juncture of start-ups and recognized veterinary vaccine developers has created an interesting example of how small businesses are playing a much larger role in the wider animal health innovation stakes.

"One of my biggest fears at the beginning of this project was the smaller players would look at some of the more established companies in the competition and think 'we are never going to win'," Ms Clay added. "But I've not seen that so far. A lot of these smaller companies are much more focused on one specific disease area, such as brucellosis, and can move more quickly than companies that have a broader view of vaccine development."

While Ms Clay said vaccine development "is not a quick process" – the potential term of the initiative is 10 years – she also pointed out there is limited funding for research in this area, which puts more emphasis on original projects like the Brucellosis Vaccine Prize to fill a void.

She said pressing disease issues such as ASF will stimulate more direct funding from organizations or governments, which means other animal health issues require industry to take a more hands-on approach.

While ASF currently has no vaccine to stem outbreaks, there have been various Brucella melitensis vaccines on the market for around 60 years. Rev1 is a live attenuated vaccine supplied by multiple companies, meaning the Brucellosis Vaccine Prize is not so much dealing with a space that has no solution at all but, in fact, aiming to provide an improved solution to the limitations of existing technology.

Ongoing data development

The successful applicants so far are currently developing their data to reach the second milestone of the competition. These companies will be submitting progress reports every six months to the competition organizers, with final applications for the next phase of the process due in the coming years. Ms Clay was keen to highlight the flexibility of the prize, which remains open for new commercial and academic applicants.

Ms Clay is in constant communication with the competition's successful applicants, termed "solvers". She said the organizations have been able to use the support the Brucellosis Vaccine Prize has given them for a range of R&D activities.

"They have used the funding for things like developing master seed banks or to carry out their animal testing," she noted. "They have also been able to use the competition for things that are less direct, such as using our competition as a platform to leverage money from other sources or secure government funding in their home country. They've also been able to secure new partnerships off the back of the Brucellosis Prize."

Importantly, the competition has reached a stage where it is stimulating new R&D.

"I'm confident the solvers would say there are developments happening now that would not have occurred without the prize," Ms Clay stated.

While specific details of the Solvers' R&D projects are currently undisclosed, Ms Clay said there is a diversity of innovative solutions being developed for brucellosis – not just focused on the live attenuated pathway that is currently used for brucellosis vaccines.

"Obviously, if we were to do this process again there would be small changes," Ms Clay explained. "We're learning all the time and we've discovered communication is the lifeblood of this project. Although, we are very pleased with the reaction to the competition."

The prize competition is designed, funded and managed by AgResults – a collaborative initiative between the governments of Australia, Canada, the UK and the US, as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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