The ARC-Onderstepoort Veterinary Research Campus (ARC-OVR) has a long tradition of veterinary research since its founding in 1908. It is nationally and internationally recognised as a veterinary centre of excellence.

ARC-Onderstepoort Veterinary Research Campus

The ARC-OVR is a flagship institution of the Agricultural Research Council and plays an important role in maintaining the health of our national livestock and wildlife herds. ARC-OVR promotes animal health and welfare by providing an effective and efficient diagnostic service and producing several veterinary vaccines.

The ARC-OVR is a unique, strategic facility designed to enable work to be conducted safely on highly contagious animal diseases, particularly foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). It has an established international reputation as the most sophisticated FMD laboratory in Africa. It presently houses Office International des Epizooties (OIE), the World Organisation for Animal Health, reference centres for seven diseases including African swine fever (ASF) and foot-and-mouth disease.

FMD confirmed in Limpopo

On 1 November 2019, the ARC-OVR was informed that the Limpopo Department of Agriculture and Rural Development identified clinical signs suspected to be FMD in a herd of cattle on a farm in the province.

The farm is located in the previous FMD free zone of South Africa. Samples were collected and dispatched to the ARC-OVR. The laboratory confirmed the initial diagnosis of FMD within four hours of receiving the samples from the state veterinarian in the Polokwane district of Limpopo. 

On 7 November 2019, the laboratory completed the genetic analysis of the causal virus strain. It confirmed additional cases of FMD on 8, 9, and 15 November 2019.

A team of experts from the department and the Limpopo Veterinary Services is conducting further investigations to verify the extent of the outbreaks. The laboratory also continues to receive samples for further testing. To date samples from 506 animals have been received with more than 1 670 tests performed.

Tailor-made FMD vaccines

In addition to the provision of diagnostic services, the ARC is also responsible for manufacturing veterinary vaccines of strategic importance, including FMD vaccines. Modern vaccine production uses the suspension production process, as opposed to the obsolete production process previously used at the ARC-OVR.

The main achievements made in this field relate to the successful development of the technology used to produce FMD vaccine, which is good manufacturing practices (GMP) compliant, development of skills for diagnostics, testing and manufacturing and process development, and clinical trials.

Suspension production process technology has significant advantages over other production processes in terms of production volume, contamination control and product quality. It has become the current standard best practice in the production of FMD vaccine. A critical part of the project was adapting new vaccine strains to ensure that the new generation of vaccines are matched to the circulating field strains, isolates collected from recent FMD outbreaks.

This effectively means that by using the newly adapted strains in the production of FMD vaccine, the ARC will be able to supply a product tailored to the specific needs of the client, a service currently not available within the region. 

FMD vaccine factory in the pipeline

To fully capitalise on the investment into FMD vaccine development, the ARC intends to build a new vaccine factory. On 1 April 2019, the National Treasury allocated R480 million to be disbursed over the medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF) period (2019/20 to 2021/22) for the development of a production process and the construction of a new factory.

To maximise the economic feasibility of the factory and to comply with regulatory requirements, it was essential that the factory met international GMP standards. GMP-compliant factories are designed to minimise the risks involved in any pharmaceutical production that cannot be eliminated by testing the final product.

However, the inclusion of the GMP requirement resulted in the escalation of the projected construction costs. Current projections indicate that construction of the new FMD vaccine factory will be completed in 2024, allowing the ARC to produce 20 million doses of FMD vaccines annually.

Stakeholder co-operation is critical

To ensure that South Africa retains its FMD free status, co-operation by all the stakeholders is critical. We urge all stakeholders in the livestock sector to heed the advice issued by the department and the National Animal Health Forum. This is important to ensure sustainability and food security for the livestock industry.

To achieve this, we advise the implementation, by the regulatory authorities with the co-operation of everyone in the sector, of all necessary measures for the effective control of animal movements to prevent further spread of the disease. Consideration must be taken in respect of isolation, quarantine and possible culling of infected animals. – Press release, Agricultural Research Council

For more information, contact Mpho Ramosili, senior manager: marketing and communications, on 012 427 9700 or send an email to ramosilim@arc.agric.za.