The Pirbright Institute, are working to deliver a vaccine that can prevent the disease which only affects pigs, and we hope it will spur greater public investment in animal medicine.
And it’s not only animals that could benefit from such work. We have seen in the past how research that initially set out to tackle diseases in animals has helped, for example, to prevent cancer in people.
As a professional with more than 20 years’ experience in veterinary medicine, I see this interconnectivity as a tremendous opportunity for both medical and veterinary research to maximise their impact.
We have seen some of our greatest advances take place when veterinary and human medicine has converged, and this is the way medicine should be practised.
Through searching for a vaccine that would protect cows from BPV, which can cause tumours, researchers at the Beatson Institute in Glasgow discovered a successful formula involving a molecule similar to the most common HPV. This paved the way for the vaccine that has since been found to halve the number of new cases of cervical cancer.
Elsewhere, Dr William Campbell and Professor Satoshi Ōmura were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 2015 through adapting a drug originally used to control parasitic worms in animals to treat River Blindness in people.
The treatment, Ivermectin, is a wonder-drug that has protected billions of livestock and pets worldwide from parasites since the 1980s. Now, some 200 million people a year also take it to treat the parasitic worm that causes River Blindness, a disease transmitted by a biting fly often found near rivers in sub-Sahara Africa, South Asia and Central America.
So where could the next breakthrough come from?
It could be that research into a tick-borne cattle disease known as East Coast Fever offers new insights into malaria control for people.
There have been signs that cattle can be protected from East Coast Fever through exposure to a milder form of the parasite, a principle that could hold potential for protecting humans against malaria.
Or it could be a new multi-species vaccine against Rift Valley Fever, a disease transmitted by at least 10 species of mosquito to livestock and people, mainly in Africa. Vaccinating both people and animals with the same product will make disease protection cheaper and disease elimination faster.
The intersection between human and animal medicine is called zoobiquity, and combines the knowledge of evolutionary biology with veterinary science and human medicine. But it’s also known as One Health because it reflects the principle that the health of animals and humans and the environment are all inter-related.
Untold opportunities for progress in health lie ahead when public, private and international institutions open up not only funding but possibilities to work together across disciplines. In 2007, the American Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association passed a resolution to work closer together for the benefit of humans and animal medicine.
With more commitments to support joint research, who knows where the next breakthrough could take us.