USDA researchers anticipate it will take at least three years to develop a new foot-and-mouth vaccine to inoculate livestock in the United States.

According to Marvin Grubman, a senior scientist at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, the vaccine has shown promising results in 40 tests on pigs, although there are no guarantees. The new vaccine has the potential to immunize animals in one day, whereas the existing vaccine requires several days to take effect.

Grubman, who has been working on the project since 1988, has requested funding to hire more researchers to conduct additional experiments on animals. Right now, he can only conduct one test at a time. ``Essentially we need to double the size of our lab to be able to speed this thing up,' adds Grubman. USDA is reviewing the request.

Chances the disease will spread to U.S. livestock are ``quite great,' Plum Island's director, David Huxsoll, said last week.

The U.S. hasn't reported an FMD case since 1929. An outbreak in the U.S. would mean an almost immediate end to beef and pork exports, worth $5 billion a year, says Keith Collins, USDA's chief economist.

If the virus migrates to the United States, the USDA would quarantine affected farms and order the slaughter of animals in surrounding areas, says Dr. Thomas McKenna, head of Plum Island's foreign animal disease eradication division.

Grubman says his vaccine creates no infection risk because it removes the FMD DNA from the virus and puts it in another virus, which is incapable of spreading the disease. The vaccine ``is one of our major projects,' he adds. ``But I have some reservations about it unless we do a lot more work.'

Grubman wants to expand his tests on the island to include cows and sheep. If there are no setbacks, Grubman plans to hire drug manufacturers to test the drug in Europe. The U.S. ban on the live virus means no tests can be conducted in this country.

Source: Bloomberg News