Cattle TB vaccine is closer than ever before as trials enter new phase

UK government has just announced that field trials of the deployable bovine TB cattle vaccine have moved on to the third phase.

UK government has just announced that field trials of the deployable bovine TB cattle vaccine have moved on to the third phase.

Bovine tuberculosis is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that England faces today, causing devastation for farming and rural communities and leading to tens of thousands of cattle being culled each year.

A cattle vaccine for bovine TB, along with the new DIVA Skin Test, brings hope to many farmers in the fight for TB eradication.

The third phase of the trial will provide an opportunity to collect additional field data from a wider group of cattle to inform options to optimise the performance and reliability of the DIVA (Detect Infected among Vaccinated Animals) test.

Innovative tool 

According to experts, vaccinating cattle against TB has the potential to protect individual animals and halt disease spread within herds and populations.  

The DIVA Skin Test (DST-F) is an innovative tool for bTB testing in vaccinated cattle populations.   

Specifically, the DST-F test is designed to distinguish between cattle vaccinated with the BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin) vaccine and those infected with Mycobacterium bovis, the bacterium that causes bTB infection.  

Turning the tide

A Defra spokesperson said: “Our strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England is turning the tide on this terrible disease. Bovine TB breakdowns in cull areas are down by more than half after four years and we remain on track to eradicate the disease by 2038.

“We are working at pace on a deployable bovine TB cattle vaccine as it is a key priority but we will only deploy the vaccine when we have all the right steps in place to enable vaccination to be delivered effectively.”

Robust assurances  

Ele Brown, head of Defra TB Programme.

Ele Brown, head of Defra TB Programme and deputy UK CVO, said: “This next step in the ongoing field trials reflects our commitment to providing robust assurances of test performance for our farmers and vets.  

“Along with colleagues in Scotland and Wales, we will continue to assess how this potential new tool could be deployed and provide the greatest possible benefit to our herds for generations to come.”  

The results of the latest field trial of 300 vaccinated and 300 unvaccinated cattle offer confidence in safety to support a future marketing authorisation application. However, results indicate that there is still a need to collate further data on test performance.  

Two animals on a participating farm exhibited reactions equal to or above the proposed positive cutoff point of >2mm. Many factors may have induced this reaction, and this next phase of testing protocol assessment aims to enhance diagnostic accuracy across settings.  

The criteria for the next phase will aim to inform practical disease control solutions for bTB in vaccinated herds.  

Access to all the tools

NFU president Tom Bradshaw commented on the news: “If we are to stand any chance of eradicating this devastating disease, it is vital that we have access to all the tools that have been proven to reduce bTB in our cattle and our countryside; increased cattle testing, vaccination of badgers where viable, and the culling of badgers where the disease is endemic.  

NFU president Tom Bradshaw.

“These tools must include a workable vaccine for cattle and associated DIVA test. Both are needed, and they would represent a significant step forward in the fight against bTB, so it is essential that everything is done to make sure it is the most effective it can be when it is made available for use.  

“We cannot afford to get this wrong. Further field trials are needed to help provide us with a vaccine for cattle that will play a vital role in the future eradication of this terrible disease.”  

Further information on the development of a CattleBCG vaccine and DIVA test can be found on the TB hub. 

READ MORE: UK government has also announced plans to continue targeted badger culling in high-risk areas 

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