FFAR-funded research to prevent African swine fever virus

A small piglet in the farm. Swine in a stall. Shallow depth of field portrait of young pig in the farm.

African swine fever virus is a highly contagious, fatal disease in pigs that spreads rapidly. There is no commercially available treatment or vaccine for the virus, posing a significant threat to United States swine production.

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research has awarded a $1 million Seeding Solutions grant to Kansas State University to develop safe and rapidly deployable vaccines to prevent ASFV. Elanco Animal Health, K-State, Kansas State University Innovation Partners and MEDIAN Diagnostics, Inc. provided matching funds for a $2,645,427 total investment.

“Should the virus reach the U.S., outputs from this research could slow the virus’ spread, protect millions of U.S. pigs and safeguard our food supply,” said Jasmine Bruno, scientific program director at FFAR.

ASFV has existed in Africa for decades; however, the virus is spreading and was recently detected in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Without a preventative vaccine or treatment, producers’ only control options are enhancing biosecurity, increasing surveillance and quarantining or culling infected pigs. Producers need a way to protect their herds, as losses would be staggering not only for the pork industry, but also for other agriculture commodities that support the industry, like corn and soy.

To address this urgent concern, Waithaka Mwangi, immunology professor in the Department of Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology, College of Veterinary at K-State, is developing and validating a vaccine to protect pigs from the virus. Certain proteins inherent within the virus can activate an immune response in swine.

This research is identifying which ASFV proteins induce protective immune responses, the optimal vaccine dose, the most effective immunization platform and a way to differentiate infected from vaccinated pigs. Additionally, the research team is addressing safety concerns and production constraints that would allow regulatory agencies to approve the use of this vaccine.