The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate has awarded Harrisvaccines, Ames, Iowa,  a $1.114 million contract to develop an RNA Particle (RP) vaccine in an effort to protect the United States from foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).

FMD is caused by the highly infectious FMD virus, which produces blisters in the mouth and feet of cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle and swine. While humans are not at risk of the disease, FMD is of particular concern as exposure closes export markets and product movement. It also can spread through cloven-hoofed wildlife, such as deer, elk and wild swine,  which makes control measures all the more challenging.  The United States has been free of the FMD virus since 1929, but the disease represents a significant threat to U.S. agriculture as pockets of the disease continue throughout the world.

According to a 2011 report by Iowa State University’s Center for Food Security and Public health, “FMD is considered by many to be the most economically devastating livestock disease in the world: it is highly transmissible; results in economic losses in animal production; and depopulation, the most effective means of control, would cost producers and the governments millions or even billions of dollars.”

Harrisvaccines will use the contract over the next 34 months to develop an RNA Particle vaccine against the FMD virus.  The company’s unique RP platform technology allows for the vaccine to be manufactured without handling the infectious FMD virus; only a gene sequence from the virus is needed to prepare the vaccine. This characteristic allows the RP-based FMD virus vaccine to be produced in Harrisvaccines’ USDA-licensed production facility in Ames. Production of FMD vaccines using traditional methods in the United States is not allowed due to the significant risk of releasing the virus into FMD-free U.S. during production.

“We are very excited for the opportunity to use our RNA Particle vaccine technology in a project this significant to U.S. agriculture,” says Kurt Kamrud, vice president of research and chief scientific officer for Harrisvaccines. “Our rapid response technology allows us to produce large amounts of vaccine quickly. Because only a portion of the FMD virus genetic information is required to generate a vaccine, the RP-based approach will allow for the differentiation of infected animals from vaccinated animals—known as DIVA-- when used with current and next generation FMD serology-based diagnostic assays, which is very important in the event of an outbreak.”

Should an FMD outbreak occur, a fast and effective vaccine will help prevent the spread of infection, which would be devastating to U.S. agriculture if not interrupted with a DIVA compliant solution, Kamrud adds.