Newport Labs may hold key to H1N1Local company's vaccine holds promise for swine industry WORTHINGTON — For months, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said it doesn’t have a vaccine available to pork producers to protect swine against the novel H1N1 influenza virus.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
Local company's vaccine holds promise for swine industry
WORTHINGTON — For months, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said it doesn’t have a vaccine available to pork producers to protect swine against the novel H1N1 influenza virus.
That is still the case today — two days after officials confirmed H1N1 in three pigs exhibited at the Minnesota State Fair in late August.
Now, a local company believes it has a product — already licensed but under a different set of regulations than what is required for H1N1 — that will guard swine herds against the human form of the novel influenza virus.
Randy Simonson, general manager and chief operating officer at Newport Laboratories, a division of Prairie Holdings Group, said Tuesday that one of the company’s vaccines has been found to neutralize the H1N1 virus. The USDA National Animal Disease Center completed its evaluation of the product three weeks ago, however a determination has not yet been made to have the vaccine mass-produced for swine herds nationwide.
The study’s author concluded that Newport’s H1N1 vaccine “demonstrated significant protection” against H1N1 in pigs.
“Swine influenza is the main part of our business,” said Simonson. “When the pandemic scare came, we had been doing research for years.”
Back in April, when it was announced that H1N1 had been confirmed in humans in the United States, Simonson said Newport Laboratories began pouring over thousands of virus sequences in its database. Those sequences, collected on influenza strains around the country, did not show an exact match to guard swine herds against H1N1.
Since then, the company has continued to do research both on its own, and has sent vaccine to the federal government.
Initially, the USDA asked several vaccine companies to research use of the human strain of H1N1 in a swine vaccine. While Newport Labs looked at the feasibility of the process, Simonson said they determined it would not be a good idea.
“Injecting a vaccine containing a killed version of the human strain of H1N1 into pigs could prevent us from being able to monitor the presence of the disease in the animals,” said Simonson. “Once a pig was vaccinated, the H1N1 strain would show up in diagnostic screenings. The problem, then, would be determining if that pig had the strain due to receiving the vaccine, or if they had contracted it from people.
“We don’t use swine influenza strains to vaccinate people against the flu, so why would we want to use human strains to vaccinate pigs?” he added.
Differentiating the source of H1N1, whether in pigs or pork chops, is important if the U.S. hopes to get countries like China — which banned the import of U.S. pork after H1N1 was discovered here — to reopen their markets.
Simonson said while H1N1 does not cause a disease in swine, the concern is that it could infect swine herds and mutate into a new virus that could be transmitted to humans.
“While transfer of the virus from pigs to humans is uncommon, all influenza viruses share certain genetic characteristics,” he said. “Some are closer than others; those that are closer are more likely to demonstrate cross-immunity.”
By immunizing swine herds against H1N1, Simonson said cross-infection can be prevented. With Newport Laboratories’ vaccine showing potential, Simonson said USDA approval could mean vaccine availability to pork producers in just a few weeks.
Newport Laboratories isn’t the only one conducting research on the novel influenza virus. The University of Minnesota, Iowa State University and Kansas State University have all come to the same conclusion as Newport — to identify cross-neutralizing swine influenza strains against H1N1.
“We are very fortunate to have the excellent scientists that we have,” said Simonson, recognizing Newport’s director of research and development Russ Beye, research scientist Tracy Olson and director of diagnostic services Ben Hause.
“These three have been at the heart of our H1N1 work, and are still pushing to learn more about the disease,” he added.
Newport Laboratories is the largest manufacturer of custom-made vaccines in the United States. Those vaccines, said Simonson, can address certain diseases in animals that are not protected by over-the-counter swine vaccines.
Ensuring the public and those countries that have banned U.S. pork that the product is safe to eat is imperative to the swine industry. According to Neil Dierks, CEO of the National Pork Producers Council, pork producers nationwide have lost an estimated $2 billion since April 24, when major media first reported the novel influenza virus as swine flu.
Minnesota ranks third in pork production nationwide, behind Iowa and North Carolina. The pork industry contributes nearly $1.5 billion and more than 21,000 jobs to Minnesota’s economy each year, according to the NPPC.