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Companies Unite to Combat Animal Disease

15 June 2012
BBSRC

UK - A new research club will unite farmers, breeders and pharmaceutical companies in the fight against animal diseases.

The Animal Health Research Club (ARC) will invest around £9.5M of public and private money in research projects which aim to improve animal health and welfare through better understanding, management and control of pests and pathogens. The club is being led by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional funding from 12 company members and the Scottish Government.

The partners hope that the by drawing on the complementary expertise of academia and industry the club will spark new ideas for keeping animals healthy and free from disease.

Farm animals can be affected by a range of diseases. These reduce the welfare of the animals and undermine the sustainability of UK farming and efforts to boost global food security. Animal diseases are also a drain on the economy. The foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 is estimated to have cost the UK economy billions of pounds and the steady drip of endemic diseases costs farmers hundreds of millions of pounds each year.

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director of Innovation and Skills, said: "Diseases in farm animals present both a serious challenge for farmers and an issue for the welfare of their animals. They affect livestock in all contexts, from Scottish farmed salmon to Welsh sheep farms, and all types of farm in between. The Animal Health Club is a unique chance to take a broad look at fundamentals of disease. We hope that by encouraging collaborations and helping people to share knowledge across normal sector boundaries we will be able to deliver real impacts that could deliver a big boost to food security."

As well as funding research, some of the money will be used to train the next generation of animal health researchers and to support the sharing and dissemination of findings and ideas across the species and sector boundaries.

Farmed animals come in all shapes and sizes, and the diseases they suffer are even more varied. However the problems that beset farmers and breeders in combating these diseases are similar across the sector. Because of this common ground there is considerable scope for pre-competitive research that could deliver benefits for everyone from salmon farmers to cattle breeders.

The company members of ARC have provided important input to the strategic direction of the Club's research. This ensures that the Club is broadly directing its funding to areas where the commercial sector sees scientific bottlenecks and means the funding pot is being used to tackle problems that will have benefits for food producers and wider society. The research projects funded by the club will focus of four key areas:

  • Understanding the fundamental biology of how farmed animals resist pests and diseases to inform breeding strategies and to help develop better vaccines and medicines.
  • Developing new tools for detecting and monitoring diseases to inform breeding strategies.
  • Research to help us understand why vaccines vary in their effectiveness from one individual to another.
  • Determining the relationship between breeding for production traits and resistance to disease.

Dr Denny Funk, Chief R&D Officer of Genus, one of the partner companies said: "Livestock farmers face a stiff challenge in the 21st century. They must produce more food, more sustainably, without compromising the high standards of animal welfare we uphold in the UK. Reducing losses caused by disease will be central to this, so we are excited to be a part of this cross sector, public-private effort. We think that the research funded by the Animal Health Research club could be of great value to all of those with an interest in combating animal disease."

The company members of ARC are:

  • Aviagen
  • BPEX
  • Cobb
  • Dairy Co
  • EBLEX
  • Genus
  • Holstein UK
  • Merial
  • Moredun Scientific
  • MSD Animal Health
  • Pfizer Ltd
  • Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation

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