Up close with Biotech: Improving livestock disease control and product safety (vaccines and diagnostics), BT01

Up close with Biotech, is a blog series that will feature frequently asked questions about the Biotech theme at ILRI. In this series we feature BT01, vaccines and diagnostics.

Tanzanian Maasai helping to treat cattle against East Coast fever

Vaccines and Diagnostics

This is a research group within the ILRI Biotech theme that is led by Phil Toye and made up a team of scientists and technical support people. The aim of the research group is to develop better vaccines and diagnostics assays for the livestock of the rural poor.

The goal: to improve livelihoods, protect livestock assets and improve incomes through better market access and competitiveness for livestock dependent poor people.

The purpose: to develop or adapt vaccines and diagnostic assays to improve animal and human health and improve market success for livestock dependent poor people.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What does the vaccines and diagnostics group do?  

This research team develops biotechnological products such as vaccines against East Coast fever (ECF) and Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia (CBPP), diagnostic assays for trypanosomiasis, CBPP, African swine fever and porcine cysticercosis, to support integrated disease control in production systems in which poor livestock keepers form an important part.

2. What activities is the group engaged in?

The activities of the team include: developing and improving vaccines and diagnostic tools for priority livestock diseases; understanding disease prevalence and transmission dynamics through molecular epidemiology and modelling, and contributing to the control of vectors of livestock diseases. Increasing resources are being devoted to zoonotic diseases of importance to poor livestock owners.

Did you know: molecular epidemiology allows researchers to establish how diseases are
transmitted between animals, and sometimes between animals and people.
It is especially important in tracking the origin of disease outbreaks and allows policy makers
to decide on the best measures to limit the spread of disease and to reduce the chances of outbreaks occurring.

3. Why is it vital to control zoonotic disease?

These diseases are of major importance for poor livestock owners, because of their close association with their animals. The understanding of zoonotic diseases is becoming an increasingly important aspect of our research as it is clear that full control of these diseases can only be accomplished by studying the disease in humans, livestock and in some cases wildlife.

Did you know: zoonotic diseases are diseases transmitted from animals to humans

4. What is a diagnostic tool and why is it important to get the right diagnostic for your livestock?

Diagnostic tools are designed to assist the veterinarian, livestock owner, animal health worker or researcher to determine the disease incidence in affected livestock. Such information may be used to determine the most appropriate treatment for a clinically sick animal, to assess the amount of disease present in a particular group of animals or to understand how diseases spread from one region to another.

5. What are emerging infectious diseases?

Emerging infectious diseases are those diseases which have been identified in the past twenty or so years, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), or which are increasing in importance such as African swine fever.

6. Are there priority livestock diseases in Africa?

The priority livestock diseases in which we work include: East Coast fever (ECF) and other tick-borne diseases, Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia (CBPP), African swine fever, Peste de petits ruminants, cysticercosis, trypanosomiasis, and Rift Valley fever.

7. What vaccines is the group researching on?

We are currently conducting research on vaccines for ECF, CBPP and Peste de petits ruminants.

8. Does ILRI distribute vaccines to farmers and how can a farmer get his animals vaccinated against diseases that ILRI researches on?

ILRI does not distribute vaccines directly to farmers. Vaccines can be obtained from veterinary surgeons and other recognized distributors.  For some of the diseases on which ILRI works, vaccines are not yet available.
9. What are the major ongoing projects that the group is carrying out?

Among the projects the group is working on include:

  1. Infectious Diseases of East African Livestock (IDEAL)
  2. People, Animals and their Zoonoses (PAZ)
  3. A genomics approach to understanding the immunopathology of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP): Improvement of current live vaccines and development of next generation vaccines

Meet the team leader!

Phil Toye, ILRI Scientist

Phil Toye is Leader of the Animal Health Research group (vaccines and diagnostics) in the Biotechnology Theme at the ILRI.  The group is conducting research into a variety of livestock diseases, including East Coast fever, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, and African swine fever. He graduated with a degree in Veterinary Science from the University of Queensland and a PhD in immunoparasitology from the University of Adelaide.

He has held postdoctoral appointments to the Harvard Medical School and ILRAD, followed by a core scientist position at ILRAD.  His research interests have focused on the molecular immunology of parasitic infections, especially Theileria parva which is the cause of East Coast fever. Before joining ILRI in 2006, Phil was a Research Manager at Agen Biomedical Limited, a biotechnological company in Brisbane, Australia, which specializes in in vitro diagnostic assays.  The responsibilities of this position included managing the company’s Research activities, the Intellectual Property portfolio and the collaborations with external academic and corporate partners.  His previous research on T. parva resulted in the identification and characterisation of a polymorphic antigen used in the commercial diagnostic assay for ECF, and the development of transfection methodology to identify antigens recognized by CTL.

In 2008, the BT01 team produced the most recent batch of the Infection and Treatment Method (ITM) vaccine at ILRI, and is actively engaged in the ITM commercialisation process being facilitated by AU-IBAR and GALVmed.  The vaccine has been registered for use in Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi.  The team is also working with VetAgro, the distributor of the vaccine in Tanzania, to improve the ITM vaccine, and with the University of Edinburgh in a major study to understand how the vaccine is so effective in preventing East Coast fever.

Read more about the ITM vaccine in the links below:

Livestock vaccine offers lifeline to many

 Need for delivery networks for East Coast fever vaccine highlighted in audio interview

For more information write to: p.toye(at)

You might also like to read; Up close with Biotech: Improving characterization of livestock and pathogens (BT02)

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