Africa / AHH / Animal Diseases / East Africa / ECF / ILRI / LIVESTOCK-FISH / Vaccines

Planting the orchard – the ILVAC livestock vaccine initiative

Several livestock diseases of great economic significance have no vaccine or have vaccines that are significantly inadequate. They may be too costly or only partially effective. Unfortunately, livestock vaccine research often lacks a critical mass of researchers and is insufficiently funded. Hence few vaccines are readily available to smallholder farmers in developing countries.


High mortality and morbidity rates due to livestock diseases are an impediment to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers who struggle to attain nutritional and economic security. Vaccines are among the most successful medical and veterinary disease interventions known. The easy vaccines, the “low-hanging fruit” have by and large been made. To crack the “difficult-to-make” vaccines we need to invest in planting an orchard of basic “vaccinology” research, take advantage of paradigm shifts that are occurring in biosciences and harvest from a deeper understanding of diseases and the processes that protect against them.


Vaccines are the most cost-effective intervention ever deployed against infectious diseases. They have the power to save lives, reduce sickness and suffering and vaccines can enhance the livelihoods of the poor and help developing economies grow. The effectiveness of vaccines has been proven by the global eradication of two lethal diseases – smallpox in humans (1979) and rinderpest in cattle and wild ungulates (2011). Humans benefit from development of veterinary vaccines both directly and indirectly in that vaccination of livestock can prevent or reduce zoonotic infections of humans that can occur as a result of contact with infected animals or their products and because a reduction in animal disease increases the efficiency of food production and reduces trade barriers.

We propose to take advantage of rapid advances in biosciences and vaccine development, and new quantitative laboratory tools that make comparisons among vaccine studies feasible, to expand the livestock vaccine pipeline and produce a new generation of vaccines. The vaccine initiative provides a rare opportunity to unite high-quality basic laboratory facilities with highly relevant field work in target livestock species. Researchers have access to a diverse range of pathogens and exotic and indigenous animals, including wildlife, as well as to experts in handling these animals. All of these aspects are required to develop efficacious veterinary vaccines and there is a significant added value to having them in a single location.

Basic vs Applied ResearchThe initiative also proposes to facilitate strategic collaborations between partners engaged in human and livestock vaccine research, providing synergies and links that have been missing in the past. Knowledge regarding how to overcome research obstacles is equally applicable to development of human and animal vaccines. For example, there are still major challenges in developing vaccines that require induction of a specific type of immune response known as cellular immunity, which play a role in mediating immunity to AIDS, malaria, East Coast fever and African swine fever. Moreover, veterinary vaccine research can inform human vaccine research since it is possible to directly experiment with target animals, while the much larger investments in human and small animal model vaccine research benefits development of animal vaccines.


Two main public good outputs will accrue from the vaccine initiative: candidate vaccines for livestock diseases of high priority to smallholder farmers and increased knowledge in the field of vaccinology. Towards these goals, the vaccine initiative will encompass research in the pathway from discovery to delivery. Each disease requires an individualized approach as vaccines for them are at different stages in the pathway. However, regardless of the stage, to ensure translation of knowledge gained through research into products that are employed by stakeholders the initiative will align itself closely with a range of partners with expertise in the pathway from discovery to vaccine commercialization, delivery and policy.


ILRI’s comparative advantage is mainly in the discovery phase to proof-of-principle under laboratory and early field research.

High-priority disease targets for which new or improved vaccines are needed include the major livestock diseases African swine fever (ASF), contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP), East Coast fever (ECF), peste des petits ruminants (PPR) and zoonotic diseases, which are transmitted between livestock and people, e.g., Rift Valley fever (RVF). This disease list aligns the health constraints that limit productivity gains in dairy cattle, sheep, goat and pig value chains in the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish. This portfolio of research activities may be expanded depending on additional prioritization exercises.

There are different entry points in pathway depending on disease targeted for control:

  • Improvement of existing vaccines
  • Development of subunit vaccines
  • Laboratory and field based diagnostics


Introduction of vaccines for the top-priority diseases is expected to significantly reduce their economic costs and detrimental impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods as follows:

  • African swine fever greatly impedes growth of the continent’s pig industry and threatens the global pig industry, valued ~USD 150 billion.
  • Yearly losses due to contagious bovine pleuropneumonia in sub-Saharan Africa exceed USD 100 million.
  • Annual economic losses due to the tick-borne cattle disease East Coast fever which occurs in 11 countries of eastern, central and southern Africa have been estimated at about USD 300 million, a figure that includes the deaths of ~1 million cattle each year.
  • Kenya’s losses due to peste des petits ruminants are estimated at USD 13 million a year
  • The economic cost of the 2006/07 outbreak of Rift Valley fever in Kenya alone (the outbreak also directly affected Somalia and Tanzania) was estimated to be more than USD 30 million.


Establishment of a world-class vaccine initiative at ILRI, with strong links to leading experts, regional and global centres of excellence, and relevant private- and public-sector partners, is expected to:

ILVAC - a vaccine platform

1)      Produce strong incentives for African scientists working or studying abroad to return to the continent and spawn a new generation of scientists to continue battling on the front lines of the evolving race between disease vectors and pathogens and their human or animal hosts.

2)      Closely align public- and private-sector organizations with comparative advantage in vaccine research, commercialization and delivery to maximize the chances of candidate vaccines becoming products that benefit livestock keepers, consumers of livestock products and the wider economy.

3)      Relieve a heavy disease burden by creating new means for the development of more effective vaccines.


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