Welcome news on new African Horse Sickness vaccine for ARF member South Africa


An announcement on Tuesday by the International Horse Sports Confederation (IHSC) that significant steps have been taken towards the identification of a new vaccine for African Horse Sickness (AHS) was welcome news for Asian Racing Federation member South Africa whose exports of horses are hampered by the presence of the AHS and subsequent quarantine restrictions.

Over the past three years, the IHSC has supported a number of research projects in collaboration with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). These projects have aimed to address critical equine health and disease issues and to improve the international movement of horses. The IHSC has provided support for various scientific studies to develop or improve diagnosis assays or vaccines for diseases regarded as priority diseases which impede the safe international movement of horses.

AHS currently represents a serious challenge to the equine industry in the part of the world in which it is endemic, mainly Southern Africa. The current commercially available live attenuated AHS vaccines have shown to have limitations in terms of safety and suitability for endemic situations. An intensive project was supported to evaluate alternative AHS vaccine technologies.

An expert IHSC Working Group has worked diligently to identify an efficacious and safe DIVA AHS vaccine candidate. The DIVA capacity is critical since it allows a distinction between a horse vaccinated with the vaccine and a horse that has been infected.

A potentially suitable vaccine candidate has now been identified by the IHSC Working Group. The candidate is an inactivated multivalent DIVA AHS vaccine. The preliminary view of the IHSC Working Group is that the vaccine candidate has the potential to be safe and efficacious, and may be used in endemic situations, as well as in outbreak situations in all ages and physiological groups.

The IHSC Working Group has also assessed the potential market for a new vaccine, and prepared a roadmap for the development of a vaccine. That roadmap proposes steps for the progression of the vaccine candidate’s development through to commercial production and effective future use. It is noted that the roadmap includes provision for a challenge study, which is considered as a necessary next step in order to demonstrate the ability of the vaccine candidate’s effectiveness against all nine AHS serotypes, and which will support regulatory registration of the vaccine.

The IHSC has now commenced consultations with key stakeholders in South Africa in order to share the research work and expertise, and to assist the industry through the next phases of the vaccine candidate’s development. Whilst emphasising the importance of industry support for the future success of any vaccine development, the IHSC will continue to provide technical guidance to the industry as required.

The Chairman of the IHSC and Chairman of the IFHA, Mr Louis Romanet, said: “The IHSC believes that the development and production of a new AHS vaccine will be a major achievement, and will deliver a far-reaching positive impact on horse sports around the world.

We are proud of the research achievements realised to date through the successful collaboration between the IHSC and the OIE. Indeed, the identification of a potential AHS vaccine candidate through this collaboration highlights the real power of the public-private partnership between the peak international horse sports bodies and the OIE.

The FEI and the IFHA have invested significant time and resources to assist with the development of an AHS vaccine to this point. We now look forward to working with industry, particularly in South Africa, in order to seek to prove up the vaccine candidate, and hopefully work through to development, production and widespread use. That will require more investment and time. However, we are confident that a new vaccine would be transformative for horse movements in and out of South Africa, which have been impacted by African Horse Sickness for too long.”

FEI Veterinary Director Göran Akerström also commented: “A new vaccine will also help to protect the world’s most valuable horse populations. It’s less than 30 years since AHS was present in Spain, even threatening the Olympic Games in Barcelona. The midge vector of the virus is present in Europe, and if the virus were to enter Europe there would be a major risk of a rapid spread of AHS. A traceable safe vaccine already available in vaccine banks would be a very effective first line of defence.”