November 26, 2003



Canada Biotech Company Cattle Vaccine Reduce E.Coli Bacteria in Cattle


A Canadian biotech company whose vaccine reduces the amount of illness-causing E. coli bacteria in cattle has applied to Canadian and U.S. regulators for approval to sell it as soon as possible next year, officials said on Tuesday.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health Canada are now examining the efficacy and safety of the vaccine, which reduces E. coli 0157:H7 in cattle manure, according to Bioniche Life Sciences, of Belleville, Ontario.


The less bacteria shed by cattle in their manure, the smaller the chance of human infection by a disease that has no antibiotic treatment, vaccine proponents said at a news conference.


"Pending review and approval of the material that was submitted (to regulators), there is an excellent chance that this vaccine will make its contribution to human health in the year 2004," said Martin Warmelink, president of Bioniche's food safety division.


Each year, about 55,000 people in North America are exposed to E. coli 0157:H7, Warmelink said, usually through contaminated water or undercooked, contaminated beef.


The bacteria cause bloody diarrhoea, vomiting and cramps. The infection may even result in kidney failure and death.


Canada's most infamous outbreak happened in May 2000 when cattle manure washed into a town well in the farming community of Walkerton, Ontario. Water managers failed to detect and treat the contamination, and seven people died and almost half the town's 5,000 residents became ill from drinking the water.


University of British Columbia microbiologist Brett Finlay, who had initially been looking into the idea of an E. coli vaccine to protect children, developed the vaccine.


Finlay told Reuters that he later realized -- while out jogging -- that a cattle vaccine would be more effective.


"It's kind of one of those moments when the light bulb just went on and the voice in your head screams, 'Forget about the kids, vaccinate the cows, they're the problem'," he said.


The vaccine prevents the bacteria from staying inside the cattle's digestive tract where they can multiply, Finlay said.


"We're priming the cows so that when they actually see the E. coli, they then basically coat the surface in Teflon with these antibodies, so it then flows right through and can't stick," he explained.


Finlay worked with the Veterinary Infectious Disease Organization in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and the Alberta Research Council on early trials.


Bioniche joined the project and commissioned large-scale trials at the University of Nebraska. In 2003, the university tested more than 4,000 fecal samples from 360 vaccinated steers and a control group of 248, said Rod Moxley, a veterinary pathologist who led the study.


The vaccine reduced bacteria shed by more than 60 percent, Moxley said.


Once regulators approve the vaccine, Bioniche hopes to sell it for C$2.00 to C$2.50 ($1.50 to $1.90) per dose, first targeting the 25 million head of cattle in North American feedlots, Warmelink said.



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