The federal government has granted $3.1 million to a researcher at the University of Alberta in order to facilitate his work in vaccine development.
U of A Vice-President (Research) Lorne Babiuk has been working with his research team on a vaccine to potentially eradicate pox-related diseases found in livestock in Africa. After a year of writing proposals and settling on agreements, Babiuk has finally secured the funding necessary to make his work a success.
There are plenty of diseases connected with the pox virus, including Capri pox, Lumpy Skin Disease and goat pox. Babiuk and his team will be developing multicomponent vaccines as a response to all these diseases.
“We can use one vaccine to control pox virus diseases in sheep, goats and cattle, since they’re very closely related,” said Babiuk, who will be the overall planner designing the experiments and ensuring they are properly executed for the duration of the project.
The official launch commenced July 1 with an inception workshop in Nairobi. The workshop was attended by representatives from Africa and the scientific advisory board that will structure the project’s activities.
Representatives from the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC), which was responsible for granting the funding to Babiuk, also attended the launch.
“We have a partner at an agricultural research centre in Africa that is going to do a number of experiments in laboratory containment, as we do in Canada,” Babiuk said.
“We’re going to be working with African regulatory agencies to see if we can ensure that the vaccines are safe and registered.”
Additionally, the team will be working with a production company in the region to develop and produce the vaccines.
According to Babiuk, working with African smallholders and farmers to educate them on the benefits and risks of the vaccines is vital in order for them to make decisions based on facts.
He also plans to focus on the inclusion of women in this process.
“A major component of this project is making sure that there is gender equity … to ensure that women are engaged, because women are the ones that manage the livestock,” Babiuk explained.
The pox-related diseases found in African livestock can be devastating to a family’s enterprise, especially for those who already sit at the poverty line.
However, Babiuk is optimistic that a vaccine will not only stop these animal diseases, but that it will also provide greater well-being to smallholder enterprise.
“Hopefully this will be a very valuable contribution to their economic and food security activities,” he said.
The project will enter its first phase over a 30-month time span, during which Babiuk says the goal is to have prototype vaccines demonstrate proof of principle in a laboratory environment.
He hopes the next step after this will be to receive further funding towards field testing and larger production.
“It certainly is a start,” he said.
Six grants were given out across the country by the IDRC and the Canadian Development Agency, with Babiuk’s being one of them.
Babiuk and his team will be working closely on the project with other groups in South Africa.
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