Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) has signed a licensing agreement with Moredun Research Institute in Scotland, United Kingdom, to acquire the technology which will lead to the final development, registration, and production of the vaccine against bovine malignant catarrhal fever (BMC), or snotsiekte. This fatal disease has been causing serious losses in the South African cattle farming community over the past few decades. Snotsiekte is a notifiable and untreatable viral disease found in cattle and is predominantly transmitted by black and blue wildebeest.

Dr Peter Oberem, veterinarian and game farmer, says: “It is a virus carried specifically by healthy wildebeest. When the wildebeest become stressed, due to calving or weaning, the immunity is suppressed, and they shed the snotsiekte virus from the respiratory tract. Cattle within a kilometre of these shedding wildebeest will begin to show symptoms a month or more after exposure.”

Thousands of cattle die annually from this disease, which has led to economic losses for cattle producers. The unpleasant nature of the disease exacerbates this distress. Affected animals develop severe pneumonia, which results in difficulty breathing and they eventually suffocate from their own mucus. Cattle with advanced cases of snotsiekte are often euthanised to prevent further suffering.

“There is currently no effective treatment known for the disease, and while moving cattle away from wildebeest during high-risk periods helps, having a vaccine will add a layer of protection to cattle herds, especially where movement of animals may not be practical. Therefore the availability of an effective vaccine will be a huge milestone for food security in the control of this devastating disease that has become a serious problem in the cattle farming sector in South Africa.

“This will also help promote a healthy interface between cattle and game farming in future, relieving tension between the two sectors and allowing recognition of the contribution each sector brings to the country’s agricultural economy,” said Dr Sello Maboe, veterinarian and technical manager at OBP.

Fifteen years’ research yields success

Dr George Russell, principal scientist at Moredun Research Institute, said, “We have been working on a protective vaccine for BMC for more than 15 years and following successful experimental as well as field trials of the vaccine in the UK, Kenya, and South Africa. Moredun is delighted to support this partnership with OBP to further develop the vaccine for use in Africa”.

“OBP will work with partners in the South African livestock industry to diligently further develop and successfully improve the technologies, with the hopes of registering and launching the snotsiekte vaccine in South Africa,” says newly appointed CEO at OBP, Dr Baptiste Dungu. This is a scoop for OBP as there is currently no other BMC vaccine available, so it could be made available to other African countries where the disease causes problems, such as southern and East Africa.

Prof Julie Fitzpatrick, scientific director at Moredun Research Institute, said: “Moredun Research Institute is committed to providing innovative vaccines for common endemic diseases of livestock, wherever they occur. The vaccine for BMC is a world first and it is greatly hoped that it will reduce disease in cattle and improve the livelihoods of producers across affected parts of Africa.” –Press release, Onderstepoort Biological Products