Belgian biotechnology company ViroVet partnered with researchers at The Pirbright Institute in 2019 to develop and test the first antiviral drugs that act against African swine fever (ASF). In the absence of a vaccine, antiviral drugs will provide an alternative control method which can help limit clinical signs in pigs and lower virus replication. This will reduce the spread of disease and help to contain outbreaks, ultimately reducing the number of pigs lost to this deadly viral infection.
The research, part funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council LINK programme, has led to the selection of several antiviral drugs that were already screened by ViroVet. These antivirals have shown to be potent and selective inhibitors of ASF viral replication in cells in the absence of cellular toxicity.
A first candidate drug was trialled at Pirbright’s unique high containment facilities this summer and demonstrated effectiveness in reducing ASF viral replication and disease in pigs. One third of the treated animals survived the challenge with ASF virus without significant disease signs and appeared to have cleared the virus. Further studies are planned with optimised dose regimens in the following months.
Dr Erwin Blomsma, Chief Executive Officer of ViroVet: “The recent outbreaks of ASF in Asia have caused more than 100 billion USD damage, there is a clear and urgent need for antiviral drugs as well as vaccines.”
Dr Linda Dixon, Head of the African Swine Fever Group at The Pirbright Institute, said: “This study is a very promising first step in providing an important tool for control of African swine fever that can be used alone or in combination with vaccines..”
Dr Nesya Goris, Chief Development Officer and co-founder of ViroVet added: “African swine fever is a devastating and often fatal disease. It is rewarding to be part of a team working on a potential solution.”