The Animal Health Trust (AHT) has started work on developing a “potentially ground-breaking” vaccination against equine herpes.

The AHT set up a steering group, including world-renowned experts on both human and equine herpes viruses, who have agreed that the AHT should design a modified live virus vaccine.

Equine herpes virus (EHV) can cause respiratory disease, abortion or fatal illness in newborn foals and neurological problems in adult horses.

It can lie dormant in horses for years and there is no vaccine licenced to protect against the neurological strain of the disease (EHV-1).

Dr Neil Bryant of the AHT, who is leading the research, said the disease is a “major welfare concern for horses”.

“It causes emotional, as well as financial strains, on horse owners and breeders around the world,” he added.

“It can strike any horse at any time so a vaccine will be of global welfare benefit to all horses, including the thoroughbred and sports horse breeding industries, and would help control this serious and sometimes fatal disease.

“We have become aware of a pressing need for progress towards a new and improved EHV-1 vaccine.

“Just last month, the AHT was again called upon to work with the racing industry and affected parties in dealing with confirmed cases of EHV-1 abortion in premises in Yorkshire and Suffolk.”

AHT trustees Professor David Silk and David Ellis, along with Professor Sidney Ricketts and Professor Joe Brownlie, are among those who have put the project together.

Their work has encouraged many leaders in the equestrian world to support and fund the research.

These include the Alborada Trust, EBM Charitable Trust, Horserace Betting Levy Board and the Racing Foundation, Paul Mellon Estate, Thompson Family Charitable Trust, Coolmore Ireland, Newsells Park Stud, Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association and Juddmonte Farms.

“I have been very happy to have been associated with this research project,” said Professor Silk.

“Funding for it has been truly international with contributions coming from horsemen based in Europe, the US, and the Gulf States.

“This international funding has supplemented the very significant donations the AHT has received from our UK supporters. I am certain that our quest to develop an effective vaccine will succeed.”

Dr Bryant added the AHT is at the start of “a very exciting and potentially ground-breaking vaccine development”.

“Through our research, we will construct different viruses with attenuating mutations and assess their suitability as modified live vaccine,” he said.

“We hope our findings will enable further development by vaccine manufacturers in creating an effective vaccine to protect against the serious clinical signs induced by EHV-1.”

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