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Agreement targets disease-resistant gene-edited pigs

06 Jul 2021

The University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and animal genetics company Genus PLC have signed an agreement to produce pigs that are resistant to a respiratory disease affecting livestock worldwide.

Researchers and the company hope the licensing agreement, facilitated by Edinburgh Innovations, the University’s commercialisation service, will lead the way to gene-edited, disease-resistant pigs being available to global pork-producing markets.

Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) harms the animals’ welfare and is one of the most costly animal diseases in the world, with around $2.5 billion (£1.8 billion) revenue lost each year in the US and Europe alone.

The disease causes breathing problems and deaths in young animals and can result in pregnant sows losing their litter.

Vaccines have mostly failed to stop the spread of the virus that causes PRRS, which is endemic in most pig-producing countries worldwide.

The University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute has produced pigs that can resist the disease by editing their genetic code. The research received funding from both Genus and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Professor Bruce Whitelaw, Interim Director of the Roslin Institute and Dean of Innovation at the University’s College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine said:

Roslin is rightly recognised for pioneering animal biotechnology that enables genetic engineering of farmed animals. The strong, productive and durable partnership with Genus has been a key aspect in seeing academic endeavour translate to useful and useable translational projects for the livestock sector.

Project leaders say that by partnering with Genus, a leading global animal genetics company, the Roslin Institute will benefit from its existing relationship with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), insights into the pork sector, its established supply chain, and its distribution channels in the world’s biggest pig markets, including China, Europe and the US.

With the signing of the licensing agreement, Genus will continue planned work for testing multiple generations of pigs and conducting studies required for FDA approval.

Dr Elena Rice, Chief Scientific Officer at Genus PLC, said:

We have long and fruitful relationships with Roslin and admire the depth of Roslin’s research and pioneering spirit. Together we laid out the groundwork for combating PRRS, and Genus is working with the FDA to obtain approval for this technology.

Dr John Lonsdale, Head of Enterprise at Edinburgh Innovations, said:

Animal health is a keystone of animal welfare as well as bringing benefits to food-producing economies and global food security.
This highly specific edit to the animals to ensure disease resistance is a result of decades of work at Roslin, and we’re delighted to be helping to improve animal welfare by bringing this technological breakthrough to market through this partnership with Genus.

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