Nanostructures for the development of vaccines against avian influenza

January 12, 2018
Livestock Vaccine Innovation Fund

woman holding a chicken

Photo: IDRC / Sven Torfinn

The impact of avian influenza

The livelihoods of smallholder farmers, who most frequently own poultry have been severely impacted by recent outbreaks of avian influenza (AI).  The severity of the disease can range from mild to extremely severe cases with up to a 100% mortality rate. In many countries, governments often respond to AI outbreaks by killing all birds within a certain perimeter, further impacting the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. Outbreaks of highly pathogenic AI in Southeast Asia between 2003 and 2006 cost an estimated US$18 billion in direct losses alone.

AI also poses a serious public health risk because certain types of the virus can affect humans. 

Why is a new AI vaccine necessary?

Vaccination is the most effective and inexpensive method to control AI. However, the type A influenza virus affecting poultry is mutating rapidly, which requires regular updates of the viral strains in vaccines. This complicates the production of AI vaccines and makes them costly. In addition, failure to incorporate relevant viral strains into a vaccine makes the vaccination ineffective and adds to the burden of smallholders, especially women, who typically care for and benefit from poultry.

Developing an innovative solution

Influenza viruses are recognized based on the nature of two main proteins: hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N) — which is evident, for example, in the naming of the H5N1 virus. Current vaccines target these two main proteins, but a new approach focusing on universal antigens (i.e. antigens shared by all AI viruses) would offer more consistent protection for birds. This highly innovative project will use two nanostructures — nanorings and nanofilaments — to deliver the selected vaccine proteins to chicken. 

Expected results

The overall expected result of this project is a nanoparticle-based AI vaccine that protects against multiple strains of the AI virus. The production of this vaccine, using nanostructures as vehicles to present the universal antigens, will be simpler than the current production methods. The control of AI will be significant for smallholder farmers in Asia and Africa because it will lead to better poultry health, improved food/nutrition security, and enhanced economic empowerment, particularly for women.

Lead institutions

This project is a collaboration between the University of Quebec in Montreal and the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (France). 

  • Duration: 24 months   
  • Budget: CA$1.3 million