A Poultry CRC Project aimed at ensuring long-term protection against Marek’s disease is progressing well, with the platform technologies necessary for producing new generation vaccines in the final stages of development.

Project Leader, Tim Mahony from the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (QDPI&F), recognised the potential for applying the technology he developed through working with cattle to fighting Marek’s disease in poultry.

“Marek’s disease is caused by a herpes virus,” explains Tim, “and prior to the start of this CRC project, my team developed a Bovine herpes virus vaccine to reduce the impact of bovine respiratory disease in feedlots.”

Current vaccines prevent Marek’s disease but do not control the virus.

As a result, vaccinated birds can become infected and shed the virus into the production environment, possibly allowing the evolution of wild-type strains that are no longer controlled by vaccines.

“There is concern world wide that if current vaccines were to fail there are no options for the control of Marek’s disease,” says Tim.

“We want to make a vaccine that not only prevents Marek’s disease but also interrupts the life-cycle of the virus.”

Tim’s group developed world-leading technology that enabled the genetic manipulation of animal herpes viruses in bacteria and it’s developing similar technology for the CRC project.

“We’ve produced a vaccine for cattle using the same platform technology,” says Tim, “and we’ve worked closely with the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) for eventual release of the vaccine to the market.”

“This experience will no doubt prove invaluable once we reach a similar stage with the proposed Marek’s disease vaccines.”

The project also brings the team at QDPI&F into close collaboration with the CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Victoria, where they can draw on the experience of Cornell University’s world-renowned Marek’s disease expert, Professor Ton Schatt.

The University of New England’s Steve Walkden-Brown and RMIT University’s Brian Meehan are also involved, completing a formidable collaborative effort to combat this potentially disastrous disease.