BBC The World at One October 1 2007
"Now as more animals are culled following a new confirmed case of Bluetongue disease, the only hope for containing the virus in the long term is through vaccination, but the only company that can produce one is Merial which is currently banned from working with live virus after foot and mouth disease leaked from its Pirbright site. But is that restriction correct? Microbiologist, Professor Brian Spratt has carried out an investigation into biosecurity at Pirbright. I think it's a reasonable precaution for foot and mouth disease virus until they have modified their procedures to inactivate the virus before it leaves their site. But for Bluetongue I think it is a very different question because Bluetongue is not directly transmissible to livestock. It needs an insect vector, it needs midges. So I think the risks of working with Bluetongue are really pretty small, as far as I understand the effluent pipe coming out of Merial has been lined and that therefore should be a fully contained pipe.
And presumably there would be real advantages in letting Merial start work now so the vaccine would be ready for the Summer because it takes about six months doesn't it to make the vaccine?
Well that's right but I think you need to talk to DEFRA about their policy - about whether if Merial can produce the vaccine, is the vaccine going to be useful to DEFRA, are they going to use it? Now, if they think they need a vaccine and they need it urgently, then I don't really see why they can't start to produce a vaccine at the Merial site for Bluetongue. Foot and mouth disease is a different matter.
Have you yourself asked DEFRA about this? I have made some informal requ...inquiries, but I haven't formally asked DEFRA
And what kind of response did you get? They were going to try and find out for me but it wasn't a formal request.
But it's your advice as an eminent scientist working in this field that actually it would be fine for Merial to be allowed to make the vaccine now provided that it was Bluetongue not foot and mouth?
I think, like all these things, there needs to be a risk assessment and a risk assessment that is based on science. If the risk assessment says the pipes are lined, if the bluetongue virus is not directly transmissible to livestock, I suspect it would get past the risk assessment fine - but I think that's what you need to do, a risk assessment based on the science.
It's certainly what farmers would want . The NFU has been saying that every non-scientific obstacle to the development and the deployment of a vaccine must be removed as a matter of urgency. Yes. But that's up to DEFRA as the regulator and up to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate who are the regulators of the Merial facility and I think it's up to them to make the decision but, as I said, the decision needs to be based on science.
Professor Brain Spratt. Well DEFRA has told us that "the current suspension is for work on ALL live viruses and it's not the case that work could be allowed to restart on just one. There are ongoing inspections of biosecurity measures at the Pirbright site which they aim to complete within weeks."
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