International FMD vaccine research and development consortium to receive over £3 million of funding from Wellcome Trust to produce more affordable and effective FMD vaccine

The new research aims to translate these findings into a commercially produced vaccine that is effective against multiple strains of FMDV that will transform the lives of the livestock farmers in the poorest regions of the world.

Researchers in the UK, led by The Pirbright Institute are to receive £3.1 million of investment to produce a more affordable and effective vaccine to protect animals against foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). 

Foot-and-mouth disease is endemic in large parts of Africa, South America, the Middle East and Asia and, globally, is the most economically important infectious disease of livestock, affecting cattle, pigs, sheep and goats and other cloven-footed animals.

The funding has been awarded by Wellcome to Pirbright and partners to advance commercial production of a new, low-cost vaccine to protect livestock against several serotypes of foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV). Vaccine producer MSD Animal Health is providing support to ensure the vaccine is as affordable as possible.

Previous research, also funded by Wellcome, carried out by Pirbright and its collaborators has already demonstrated that vaccines derived from virus-like particle (VLP) copies of the foot-and-mouth disease virus propagated in insect cells were effective in protecting cattle against four serotypes of the disease. The new research aims to translate these findings into a commercially produced vaccine that is effective against multiple strains of FMDV that will transform the lives of the livestock farmers in the poorest regions of the world.

The research team of Dr Bryan Charleston, Director at The Pirbright Institute, Prof Dave Stuart, University of Oxford and Diamond Light Source, Dr Liz Fry, University of Oxford and Prof Ian Jones, University of Reading will join forces with commercial vaccine producer MSD Animal Health, to produce physically stabilised VLPs that can be commercially produced for the current circulating strains of FMDV as well as emerging ones. The ultimate goal of this research is to substantially increase the availability of safe, effective and affordable vaccines to control FMD in the most severely affected areas world-wide.

Countries where the disease is endemic suffer a huge impact on their national and international trade, economic and food security and devastating effects on animal and human health. There is currently a massive shortfall in the availability of FMD vaccines, most strikingly in Africa and there is a desperate need for a new affordable vaccine.

Dr Bryan Charleston said: “Whilst our initial research has provided proof of concept of these virus-like particles for four different strains, this funding will allow us to answer the remaining product development challenges and further improve the stability of VLPs.

“This represents the final step in being able to bring an affordable and effective FMD vaccine to the market that does not require special facilities to produce, is less reliant on a cold chain, and so will transform the livelihood of those farmers in the poorest areas of the world who depend on their livestock for food and economic security.”

“Every year, foot-and-mouth disease causes enormous economic losses to the livestock industry resulting from morbidity in adult animals, reduced animal productivity, mortality in young stock and restriction to international trade in animals and animal products due to sanitary control measures, and affects more than 100 countries around the world,” said Erwin van den Born, R&D Project Leader at MSD Animal Health. “MSD Animal Health is committed to fostering innovation that will help countries better respond to FMD outbreaks. Together with the research collaborators, we are actively testing several next-generation technologies to be able to quickly adapt vaccines to emerging viruses.”

Professor Stuart, Life Science Director at Diamond Light Source and MRC Professor of Structural Biology at the Department of Medicine University of Oxford, comments: “Foot-and-mouth disease is one of the most economically important diseases in livestock worldwide. With several billion doses of vaccine administered every year, you can appreciate the relevance of our collaborative work. What we have achieved so far is down to the continued support of our funding agencies, the individual and collective perseverance of the entire collaboration and access to advanced tools including the structural biology infrastructure at the Diamond synchrotron, offering protein crystallography and electron microscopy facilities. With this latest grant we will focus on the final developments needed to produce a commercially viable new vaccine.”

Ian Jones, Professor of Virology at the University of Reading, said: “I am very grateful to the Wellcome Trust for their continued support of our research aimed at making vaccination against foot-and-mouth disease virus far more widespread. The basic science has progressed well but there is still a gap in making its manufacture a practical reality, which this funding should allow us to bridge. The principles we learn could also benefit other vaccines made in a similar way, for both animal and human disease.”

Notes to editors 

About the VLP vaccine

The virus like particle vaccine is synthetic, and made up of tiny protein shells designed to trigger optimum immune response. The VLPs contain no genetic material so production doesn’t rely on growing live infectious virus and is therefore much safer to produce. The VLPs have been engineered to be more stable; making the vaccine much easier to store and reducing the need for a cold chain. Crucially, this new approach to making and stabilising vaccines could also impact on how viruses from the same family are fought, including polio.

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About The Pirbright Institute

The Pirbright Institute is a world leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of virus diseases of farm animals and viruses that spread from animals to humans. Based in the UK and receiving strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Institute works to enhance capability to contain, control and eliminate these economically and medically important diseases through highly innovative fundamental and applied bioscience.

With an annual income of nearly £32.1 million from grants and commercial activity, and a total of £14.3 million strategic investment from BBSRC during 2017-2018, the Institute contributes to global food security and health, improving quality of life for animals and people.

For more information about The Pirbright Institute see:

Diamond Light Source

Diamond Light Source is the UK’s synchrotron science facility. Shaped like a huge ring, it works like a giant microscope, harnessing the power of electrons to produce bright light that scientists can use to study anything from fossils to jet engines to viruses and vaccines. Diamond accelerates electrons to near light speeds, producing a light 10 billion times brighter than the Sun, which is then channelled into 31 laboratories known as ‘beamlines’. 

Thousands of scientists use the UK’s synchrotron each year, with 57% visiting and 43% accessing the facility remotely. Diamond’s state-of-the-art facilities and world class people act as agents of change, addressing 21st century challenges such as disease, clean energy and food security. Diamond research supports new medicines, technologies and advances of all kinds. In 2017, Diamond celebrated a double anniversary: 15 years since the company was formed, and 10 years of research operations. More than 6,900 papers have been published because of research conducted at the facility.

Funded by the UK Government through the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), and by the Wellcome Trust, Diamond is one of the most advanced scientific facilities in the world, and its pioneering capabilities are helping to keep the UK at the forefront of scientific research. For more information about Diamond visit

About Wellcome
Wellcome exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive. We’re a global charitable foundation, both politically and financially independent. We support scientists and researchers, take on big problems, fuel imaginations and spark debate.