WASHINGTON – The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the US Dept. of Agriculture is seeking comments on its plan to grant Zoetis LLC, Kalamazoo, Michigan, an exclusive license to develop a vaccine to control African Swine Fever (ASF). Currently, there is no approved commercially available vaccine against the virus.

Zoetis said granting the license would pave the way for Zoetis to develop a vaccine in coordination with the USDA to help control African Swine Fever. However, the road to a commercially available vaccine will be long.

“African swine fever was recognized as a significant transboundary threat years ago,” the company said. “The Zoetis Center for Transboundary and Emerging Diseases team has been engaged in working towards a solution, and the development of a vaccine with the USDA is one of them.”

ARS intends to grant the exclusive, royalty bearing license to the company unless the agency receives evidence that doing so would be inconsistent with federal regulations, according to a notice in the Federal Register. The deadline for comments is Nov. 14, 2018. Comments can be submitted to USDA, ARS, Office of Technology Transfer, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Rm. 4-1174, Beltsville, Maryland 20705-5131.

The US Patent and Trademark Office granted Zoetis two patents: “Attenuated African Swine Fever Virus Vaccine Based in the Deletion of MGF Genes” on Dec. 27, 2016, and “Rationally developed African Swine Fever Attenuated Virus Strain Protects Against Challenge with Parental Virus Georgia 2007 Isolate” on Nov. 7, 2017.

Zoetis explained that the causative agent of ASF is an enveloped, double-stranded DNA arbovirus, called the African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV). Researchers deleted six specific genes of the highly virulent ASFV Georgia 2007 isolate and recombined the DNA parts reducing the virulence, or severity, of the parent virus.

“Pigs immunized with live attenuated ASF viruses containing engineered deletions of specific ASFV virulence-associated genes were protected when challenged with homologous parental virus,” according to documents filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

African Swine Fever is a hemorrhagic swine disease that is highly contagious. Currently, there are no commercially available vaccines against the disease. Mortality rates in a swineherd can be as high as 100 percent, and death can occur within two to 10 days on average. The search for a vaccine against ASF has intensified as reports of ASF outbreaks continue from China — which reported the country’s first-ever case in August. A new case in the Liaoning province affected a commercial hog operation of 20,000 head.

In September, Belgium became the first western European country to be affected by ASF when the virus was detected in two wild boar. A follow-up report filed with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) put the number of reported outbreaks in wild boar at 38 as of Oct. 15. No outbreaks have been reported at commercial swine facilities.

In response to the outbreak in Belgium, the Ministry of Agriculture in France requested fences be installed in counties along the France-Belgium border prevent the movement of wild boar from Belgium into France.

ASF prevention also is top of mind for officials and stakeholders in the US swine industry. In remarks to attendees at the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) Fall Forum in Washington, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “We are going to double down the guard to keep ASF out of the US — and we will continue to be ever-vigilant of that concern. We’re increasing our biosecurity protocols… We’re working now to make sure we have adequate federal and state laboratory capacity to handle any of the testing needs that may occur.”