Vaccine against ‘relentlessly challenging’ cattle pathogen C. parvum awaits European approval

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT

Getty/K Neville
Getty/K Neville

Related tags calf young animal nutrition Vaccine Livestock ruminants colostrum European union

The industry-first jab provides protection against cryptosporidiosis, one of the most contagious and harmful diseases that affect newborn calves.

Commonly known as ‘crypto’ or calf diarrhea, the illness is caused by the zoonotic parasite C. parvum and in severe cases can lead to reduced weight gain and death. The fast-spreading disease is often impossible to prevent and its treatment can significantly affect growth rates in newborn calves. Affected animals can be treated with antibotics and symptoms can be relieved via fluids and electrolyte replacement or nutritional support and administration of antidiarrheal remedies. Several days of intensive care and feeding may be needed before recovery is apparent.

But soon, a first of its kind jab that boosts calf immunity against the disease-causing pathogen may be approved by European regulators. Developed by MSD Animal Health, Bovilis Cryptium is administered to pregnant cows to raise antibodies in bovine colostrum – the milk given to calves as their first feed - against a protein expressed by C. parvum. “What we are doing is vaccinating pregnant mothers to increase the antibodies in colostrum,” Dr. Geert Vertenten, global technical director of ruminant biologicals at MSD Animal Health, told us. “Via ‘vaccinated colostrum’, we can protect newborns.”

The jab elicits a strong immune response against the parasite for at least the first two weeks of life, we were told. “Later in life, they can develop their own immunity so it’s not as big of an issue – the animals can still be carriers, but they have no active disease.”

Vertenten added that field studies have been carried out to confirm the efficacy of the vaccine, which has been many years in the making. “We’ve been working for around 10 years on this new vaccine and a few years ago, we brought it into the field via efficacy trials.

“The feedback is very good. It’s not just about the efficacy on paper, it’s also how the farmers feel about it. Their daily routine can be significantly disrupted due to cryptosporidiosis.”

Besides an important immunity-boosting feed for newborn ruminants, bovine colostrum is also marketed by specialist supplement providers. Bovine colostrum is increasingly popular among professional athletes as an immunity-boosting supplement while its anti-ageing benefits makes the ingredient sought-after in the beauty industry. According to Future Market Insights, the global bovine colostrum market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 6.5% from 2023 to 2033.

Asked if the jab could affect the quality of bovine colostrum or create regulatory barriers for supplement producers, Vertenten replied: “Vaccinating pregnant cows with Bovilis Cryptium results in an increase of C. parvum-specific antibodies in colostrum. The commercialization of [the vaccine] won’t create barriers for bovine colostrum supplements, as today there are no regulatory requirements for those supplements on the level of specific antibodies.”

The path to commercialization

MSD Animal Health is working with regulators, including the Committee for Veterinary Medicinal Products (CVMP) which has a role in authorizing veterinary medicines in the EU, on gaining European approval as soon as December 2023, with a commercial launch expected in the following months. In the future, the company also aims to submit in other global markets – where trials are already ongoing – and C. parvum is present.

“C. parvum is a relentlessly challenging pathogen for cattle producers across Europe and worldwide and are pleased the CVMP recognizes the vaccine’s capability to help solve such a significant problem,” said Vertenten. “We look forward to working with European regulators to potentially expand the preventive neonatal vaccine market with this new therapeutic category.” 

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