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A company is working on a vaccination against sweet itch, which it hopes will be on the market by 2020-21.

Benchmark Holdings, an “innovation company” specialising in agriculture and animal health, is working with Swiss equine biotech firm Evax AG on developing the vaccine.

Researchers will be using virus-like particle (VLP) technology; a technique used in human medicine which mimics the behaviour of viruses.

Benchmark chief executive Malcolm Pye said: “We are delighted to be partnering with such a highly-regarded team to develop this much-needed solution for an issue which currently has no licensed vaccine treatment available.

“We continue to invest in cutting-edge technologies and are seeing further benefits from our investment in vaccine manufacturing at Braintree, where much of the development and all the manufacturing for this vaccine will take place.”

Sweet itch, or insect bite hypersensitivity is caused by an allergic immune response to midges’ saliva.

The VLPs in the vaccine would attach themselves to components of the saliva, rendering it non-allergenic.

Edwin Vanhees, from Benchmark’s animal health team, said: “This vaccine will make a huge difference to horses, ponies and their owners.


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“Relief for the animals will come from being able to prevent and treat the condition, and thus their suffering, whilst owners will have access to a long-term cure.

“The vaccine will eliminate the need for continuous husbandry and treatments, allowing both owner and animal to continue their lives without unwanted interruption from one of the most prevalent skin conditions facing horses and ponies.”

The vaccine is in the very early stages of development, and any trials would be some years away. It has not yet been decided whether or not these would be open to the public.