World-first sheep worm vaccine a step closer

Countryman

Western Australian and Scottish researchers are developing a world-first vaccine to guard against intestinal worms in sheep.

The Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia and the Moredun Research Institute in Edinburgh (UK) have signed an agreement to produce a commercial vaccine for Barbers pole worm.

Barbers pole worm (Haemonchus contortus) is considered the world's most severe sheep and goat parasite, costing Australian sheep producers millions of dollars each year.

Department of Agriculture and Food Livestock Industries Executive Director Kevin Chennell said growing levels of resistance to chemical drenches was compounding the challenge for sheep producers in managing worms.

"This has been dubbed the 'holy grail' of sheep worm control, giving producers in affected areas a new option to manage parasites into the future despite severe and increasing problems with drench resistance," Dr Chennell said. "The vaccine is a world-first, as there are no other vaccines commercially available against any sheep worms, or intestinal worms of any sort."

Dr Chennell said the vaccine had been proven in field trials and it had been submitted for registration as a commercial product. The vaccine could be marketed within two years.

"This project is bringing together scientific expertise from across the globe, and here in Western Australia we have the unique field and laboratory capabilities along with the right environment to deliver this," he said. "To ensure the integrity of the vaccine, it needed to be produced in a country free of major virus and other diseases."

The Moredun team, which developed the vaccine technology, extracts antigens from the parasitic worms as the basis of the vaccine, which will be manufactured at the department's Albany animal health laboratories.

As a result, the department is expanding the vaccine laboratory as it takes delivery of equipment to make commercial quantities of the vaccine.

Department Principal Veterinary Parasitologist Brown Besier said field trials had demonstrated the vaccine provided up to six weeks protection against worms, longer than most drenches.

"More importantly, it provides another tool to control worms without exacerbating the risk of drench resistance," Dr Besier said. "The department has conducted field trials in WA to demonstrate the effectiveness of the vaccine, alongside other interstate and overseas trials."

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