Animal health researchers highlight gaps in disease control

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Some 126 delegates from academia, government, the European Commission and the animal health industry participated in the Discontools event in Brussels.
Some 126 delegates from academia, government, the European Commission and the animal health industry participated in the Discontools event in Brussels.

Dozens of experts and stakeholders from across Europe met in Brussels last week to discuss important knowledge gaps in animal disease controls part of the Discontools project.

Discontools (DIsease CONtrol TOOLS) is an open-access database to support public and private funders of animal health research in identifying research needs and developing research agendas. It evolved from the EU-7th framework programme funded project, to a joint initiative of the animal health industry and a wide range of stakeholders, including the research community, regulators, international organisations, veterinarians and farmers.

The long-term goal is to deliver new control approaches and new or improved vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostic tests to reduce the burden of animal disease.

Improving animal health is a key factor to address today’s global challenges, but at the same time, global changes such as increased mobility of people and animals, changing consumer behaviours and climate change are altering disease risk and leading to the emergence of new pathogens. Public and private sectors are taking action on these challenges and investing in research for the development of new animal health solutions.

The event in Brussels took place brought together experts from academia, governments and industry to review the identified research gaps and designate disease-specific as well as cross-cutting research gaps that should be filled in the coming decade.

Stéphan Zientara, director of the Joint Research Unit in Virology at ANSES, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety, pointed out the important role of Discontools in advancing control measures against both well-known (e.g. tuberculosis) as well as emerging diseases (e.g. Bluetongue, West Nile, African horse sickness). Discontools will be an important resource to underpin the envisaged animal health priorities during the French presidency to the EU, he said.

Discontools project manager Johannes Charlier said that, despite significant progress in the past decade, a pressing need persists for the development of stable and durable diagnostics, fundamental research to find breakthrough solutions for diseases and insights into resistance mechanisms of bacterial as well as parasitic pathogens to address the antimicrobial resistance challenge.

Nigel Swift, Global Head of Veterinary Public Health at Boehringer Ingelheim, spoke about how public-private partnerships (PPPs) in animal health can strengthen overall public health systems. He said that some of the best vaccine developments have come from public-private collaborations. “However, PPPs help deliver not only on vaccine research and development, but also disease control and eradication, for instance in disease surveillance and response capacities.”

Alex Morrow, secretariat coordinator of the STAR-IDAZ International Research Consortium on animal health, showcased roadmaps for candidate vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics and control strategies to better align future research calls and avoid duplication in effort. He also announced new roadmaps in the pipeline for research into therapeutic alternatives to antibiotics and vector-borne disease transmission.

Jean-Charles Cavitte from DG AGRI (Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development for the European Commission) and Hein Imberechts from the Sciensano research institute in Belgium, said that previous European R&D projects did not always deliver the aspired control tools. Therefore, Europe needs to step up collaboration among member states to foster new knowledge, control tools and support evidence-based policymaking in animal health and welfare.

The event concluded with a panel discussion with animal health stakeholders on setting disease and cross-cutting research priorities and how Discontools can continue to play a role in underpinning strategic research agendas. Nancy De Briyne, executive director at the Federation of Veterinarians in Europe (FVE) stressed that it was an impressive resource to help address some of the great challenges of livestock farming today: Keeping disease out, reducing the climate footprint, reducing the use of antibiotics and making animal farming more welfare friendly. “It is important to see these challenges holistically and invest in ‘One Health’.

“Discontools helps here by showing per disease which preventive tools (e.g. vaccines) are available and which can be advised by veterinarians conducting regular farm visits. However, even with the best preventive measures in place, animals can still get sick, so we should not lose sight of the diagnostic tools and treatment options that will always remain necessary,” De Briyne said.

The Discontools project celebrated the completion of the second update cycle of more than 50 infectious disease analyses, an effort taking five years.
The Discontools project celebrated the completion of the second update cycle of more than 50 infectious disease analyses, an effort taking five years.

Influenza was noted at the meeting as one of the most significant epizootic diseases. Professor Timm Harder from the Friedrich Loeffler Institut said that different animal influenza viruses harbour considerable zoonotic potential, and a swine Influenza virus has caused the most recent human influenza pandemic in 2009.

“Better understanding of animal influenza is required to ensure production of safe food products (agro-economy), to optimize intervention strategies such as biosecurity and vaccine-driven protection of holdings (epidemiology), to reduce the risks of zoonotic influenza viruses (public health), and to protect wild bird populations against virus incursions from poultry (conservation-ecology).”

In an original duo-presentation, professors Diana Williams from the University of Liverpool and Jozef Vercruysse from Ghent University, spoke of the detrimental effects parasites of the gastrointestinal tract (endoparasites) continue to pose on grass-based farming systems worldwide. They said parasite control is increasingly threatened by resistance to the antiparasitic drugs and by infection patterns being altered through changes in climate, land use and farming practices. They stressed that through investing in better diagnosis, development of vaccines and improved therapeutics, an array of complementary control options and integrated control practices can be developed which would alleviate the reliance on anthelmintics as the sole control method.

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One thought on “Animal health researchers highlight gaps in disease control

  • October 28, 2021 at 2:54 am
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    I just read this article and found it amazing. I hope i will see more contents like the one in future.

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