28 January 2016 |New global research consortium on animal health launched

A new International Research Consortium for Animal Health (IRC) has been created to coordinate global research and ultimately lead to new methods of controlling animal diseases.

The IRC builds on an existing global network on animal disease research, STAR-IDAZ, and aims to instigate new strategies on over 30 priority diseases and challenges, such as vaccine development and antimicrobial resistance.

Over €1 billion ($1.09 billion) has been initially pledged by participants – governments, research institutes, global organizations and veterinary pharmaceutical industry representatives – while the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) is involved as a strategic partner.

The IRC, formally launched in Brussels this week, was proposed by the European Commission following the success of STAR-IDAZ, created with just €1m of EU co-funds in 2011 and run by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The IRC is effectively the next phase of STAR-IDAZ and is a first in the realm of animal health, with similar global research consortia in place for human health issues such as rare diseases, those behind the initiative explained to Animal Pharm’s sister publication, Agra Europe.

Comprising research funders from all continents, the IRC’s mandate is to “deliver measurable advancements in the control of animal diseases through the alignment of both public and privately funded animal health research programs around the world”.

The delivery targets are to facilitate new or improved strategies in a host of areas, including candidate vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics and other animal health products and procedures, in addition to scientific information/tools to support risk analysis as well as disease control.

The diseases identified for initial collaboration include animal influenza, bovine TB, foot and mouth disease, brucellosis and African swine fever. Priority issues include food-borne pathogens, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and advances in animal genetics/genomics.

IRC crucial to food security

OIE director general Monique Eloit told Agra Europe the IRC has an important role not only for food safety but also for food security, with the livelihoods and economic survival of many farmers in Africa and South East Asia dependent on keeping their livestock.

Despite the eradication of diseases such as Rinderpest, other diseases such as foot and mouth and bovine tuberculosis are still a big threat, while the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance means alternatives to antibiotics must be sought – something which Dr Eloit warned is a huge task.

Professor Ian Boyd, chief scientific advisor for Defra, added that the IRC can contribute to turning the tide in a global “arms race” with pathogens.

However, participants also acknowledged the huge research and development costs for pharmaceutical companies and the fact that new vaccines will only be developed if they foresee a return on investment.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan praised the IRC and said the Commission’s agriculture department (DG Agri) intends to become a participant and contribute funds.

The initial €1bn has been pledged for the period 2016-2021, with participants agreeing to coordinate research programs to address common needs and share results, based on the most up-to-date scientific knowledge. Ahead of the launch there were 14 IRC signatories from 12 countries* but this has since risen to 16 and more are expected in the coming months – with US company Zoetis having just decided to join, Agra Europe was told.

Working groups

IRC working groups of researchers will be established for each of the 30+ priority topics, to be guided by an IRC scientific committee.

These working groups will carry out research gap analyses, while the scientific committee, to be made up of independent experts, will present the gap analyses to IRC partners and advise them on how their programs could be aligned accordingly.

A scientific secretariat will also be set up to provide the working groups with literature reviews and support them in the gap analyses, as well as supporting the scientific committee and an IRC executive committee.

*IRC signatories so far: Danish National Veterinary Institute; French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety; France’s National Institute of Agricultural Research; Italy’s Ministry of Health; UK Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (UK); UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Argentina’s National Institute of Agriculture Technology; Argentina’s Ministry of Science and Technology; Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA); US Department of Agriculture’s agriculture research services; Japan’s National Institute of Animal Health, National Agriculture and Food Research; International Livestock Research Institute (based in Kenya); Israel’s Kimron Veterinary Institute; Tanzania Veterinary Laboratory Agency.

Paul Hutchinson is a Brussels correspondent for Agra Europe, a sister publication of Animal Pharm.