Company Closing in on Vaccine for Killer Virus in Pigs
McNeill, Murray, Winnipeg Free Press
A Manitoba biotech company says it is about three months away from producing an effective vaccine to combat a highly contagious and deadly virus that has killed millions of baby pigs in North America.
Zyme Fast Inc., which has a lab just outside Winnipeg in the RM of Springfield, said the new vaccine will be a variation of a vaccine it developed about three years ago to successfully combat an Asian strain of the same virus. The virus is called porcine epidemic diarrhea, or PED for short.
"Not only is it effective in protecting piglets from contracting PED, it also cures those already infected," Zyme Fast president Terence Sellen said Tuesday. "To the best of our knowledge, the Zyme Fast technology is the only one used in China."
Sellen said the primary North American strain of the virus shares about 92 per cent of the characteristics of the Asian variety. So Zyme Fast only needs to modify the Asian vaccine to make it nearly 100 per cent effective against the North American strain, rather than having to develop a whole new vaccine from scratch.
"We use a proven vaccine research and design protocol that we've developed and used to produce the Asian PED vaccine as well as other effective vaccines and animal-health products that are delivered as powdered animal-feed supplements," Sellen said. "(So) barring any unexpected glitches, we're confident we can have an effective vaccine ready for approval in about three months."
He said while several pharmaceutical companies are also reported to be working on a vaccine, media reports say they're at least a year away from producing a product.
Zyme Fast is working closely with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, which approached it about a month ago to see if it was working on a vaccine for the North America strain of the virus. It's also working closely with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which will have to approve the new vaccine before it can be used by Canadian hog producers, and with local hog industry's umbrella organization -- the Manitoba Pork Council (MPC).
Sellen said Zyme Fast's local lab, which has a staff of six, has the capacity to produce the vaccine itself. It will likely need to hire only one additional worker.
But if the new vaccine is fast-tracked for use in Canada and the United States, it will likely generate millions of dollars in additional revenues for the firm, he added.
A MPC official said a made-in-Manitoba vaccine could provide a huge benefit for the local pork industry in its ongoing battle to prevent PED from ravaging herds here. …