An estimated 600 million smallholder farmers who live on less than US $2 a day rely on small herds of goats, sheep, and other small ruminants as their only option for food, income, and access to a life outside of poverty. Unfortunately, these men and women are often at risk of losing much of their herds because of Brucellosis, a disease that remains endemic across much of the Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
Brucellosis is a costly disease that affects ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo, etc.) and causes abortions, infertility, decreased milk production, and weight loss, amongst other effects. While a vaccine exists, it has proven to be effective only in the developed world where it is easy to adhere to complex vaccine management systems. Private sector pharmaceutical and animal health companies have the ingenuity and creativity to develop a vaccine that could be effective in the developing world context, however because of high research and development costs, they are often dissuaded from entering the market. Without the vaccine, these millions of farmers are left vulnerable to a disease that is an afterthought in the developed world.
The disease can also cross the species barrier and affect humans with severe flu-like symptoms. There are approximately 500,000 new human cases reported annually. Such effects impact smallholder famers by depriving them of their main source of livelihood and ultimately reduces their ability to break out of the cycle of poverty.
Because of the devastating effects of Brucellosis and the potential impact a vaccine could have on poverty reduction, food security and nutrition, AgResults has launched the Brucellosis Vaccine Prize, a US $30 million prize challenge. The prize – the largest of its kind – aims to use donor funding from the governments of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to incentivize animal health companies to develop a vaccine against the disease to be used in developing countries.
The challenge is targeting animal health, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies and other organizations to develop and register an effective vaccine to be used against B. melitensis, a strain of Brucellosis that particularly affects smallholder farmers in the developing world. Current vaccines against the disease are often ineffectual in the developing country context because they require complex management systems and/or may pose a threat to vaccinators as they contain the live disease. Furthermore, the current vaccine is thermosensitive and needs constant refrigeration. Given the fact that a significant percentage of smallholder farmers are nomadic and refrigeration facilities are few, the existing vaccine has therefore proved to be ultimately ineffective.
The challenge will span up to ten years and will be managed by the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed), based in Edinburgh, United Kingdom.
AgResults is using such a large prize to offset the costs of research and development, and other costs that often dissuade private sector companies from creating a vaccine that ensures efficacy in the developing world. The winning vaccine will ideally overcome all current hurdles that inhibit the efficacy of the Brucellosis vaccine in developing countries, including addressing one or more strains that particularly affect small livestock, reduced reliance on complex management of animals undergoing vaccination (e.g. culling), using an inactive agent, and ensuring the vaccine does not need constant refrigeration. Eligible companies will receive three milestone payments at different stages of the contest that could add up to a total of US $26 million in total for one entrant. Participating companies who do not win the final prize can still receive the milestone payments of US $100,000 and another milestone payment for US $1 million. The full breakdown of the prize structure and information about when and how to apply can be found at www.brucellosisvaccine.org.