Project aims to develop African swine fever antivirals

The Pirbright Institute has announced that it will partner with the Belgian biotechnology company ViroVet to develop the first antiviral drugs that act against African swine fever virus (ASFV). In the absence of a vaccine, antiviral drugs could provide an alternative control method which would help limit clinical signs in pigs and lower virus replication. This could reduce the spread of disease and help to contain outbreaks.

ASFV has spread rapidly across Eastern Europe and China, recently appearing in Vietnam and Cambodia. Although the virus is unable to infect humans, it has decimated pig populations which has huge implications for food and economic security.

Commercial vaccines have been estimated to be several years away. Pirbright scientists have been funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) LINK programme to partner with ViroVet and develop antiviral drugs that are effective against ASF.

The drugs have already been screened in the laboratory for their ability to prevent viral replication and reducing toxicity to pig cells. So far, these antivirals have demonstrated a 90% reduction rate in viral replication. The most successful candidates will be further tested at Pirbright’s high containment facilities.

Scientists will assess whether the antiviral drugs are effective at preventing 14 different types of ASFV from replicating in macrophages. This will help to pinpoint how the antivirals work, and allow researchers to optimise the drugs so that they are effective against a wide range of ASFV strains. The most efficient candidates will then be trialled in pigs to establish safety.

[SOURCE: The Pirbright Institute]