The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), Plum Island Animal Disease Center scientists recently filed five patent applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and provided the funding for research performed by collaborating federal scientists to file five additional patent applications to provide powerful new tools to combat Foreign Animal Diseases (FADs), specifically Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) and African Swine Fever.

FMD image/ Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
FMD image/ Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 (HSPD-9) establishes a national policy to protect against terrorist attacks on agriculture and food systems, and directs DHS to “accelerate and expand development of current and new countermeasures against the intentional introduction or natural occurrence of catastrophic animal, plant, and zoonotic diseases.” S&T, the research and development arm of DHS, pursues these directives aggressively.

“We are developing countermeasures to prepare for FADs entering the U.S via agroterrorism, careless travelers, or traded commodities,” explained Dr. Roxann Motroni, Agricultural Defense Branch Program Manager with S&T’s Chemical and Biological Defense Division (CBD).

Food and Agriculture is designated by DHS as one of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors (Presidential Policy Directive -21 (PPD-21), Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience ) and is estimated to contribute one fifth of the U.S. economic activity. The cost estimates of a FMD outbreak range up to $188 billion in producer and consumer losses as well as $11 billion in government costs. When it comes to FADs, DHS S&T knows the nation can’t afford to wait until there is an incident. Effective vaccines and diagnostic tests must be available now to prevent or mitigate the impacts of a disease outbreak.

DHS S&T’s federal and contract scientists at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, New York, work hand-in-hand with other U.S. federal, academic, and industry scientists to develop new detection methods, prevention technologies, pathogen characterization, and countermeasures for a variety of livestock FADs.

The most recent patents and patent applications include improvements for the effectiveness of existing vaccines, development of new vaccines, and improvements in disease detection, said Motroni.

For example, one patent application involves an improved method to screen samples from livestock faster and more accurately. Results from rapid and accurate diagnostic tests are critical during a crisis for the large numbers of livestock in the U.S. Another patent application, provides a significant improvement to next-generation FMD vaccines that may allow for easier manufacturing.

With S&T funding, federal scientists from a collaborating agency developed a novel vaccine that protects against multiple types of FMD and filed patents describing vaccines against African Swine Fever, a deadly disease which does not currently have a vaccine.

The bottom line, as Motroni believes, is S&T advances preparedness through listening to the needs of stakeholders, state-of-the-art science, extensive collaboration and successfully transitioning valuable product candidates to industry partners.