The Pirbright Institute

The Pirbright Institute
State-of-the-art virology facilities and expertise in animal immunology used to support COVID-19 vaccine development
The Pirbright Institute Building

The Pirbright Institute provides facilities and expertise in animal immunology and state-of-the-art virology research.

Pirbright receives funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), alongside government departments, charities and industry, and is home to several World Reference Laboratories for viral diseases of livestock, such as foot-and-mouth disease.

Through collaborations with the University of Oxford, scientists at Pirbright responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by using pigs as a model to test the immune response induced by a new vaccine, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (AZD1222). Developed by a team of scientists at the Jenner Institute, the vaccine is a chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine vector that contains the spike protein from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The vector has previously been used to create vaccines for diseases such as Ebola and seasonal flu.

Scientists at the Institute established that two doses of the vaccine generated a greater antibody response in pigs than one dose. These antibodies could play a vital role in helping the immune system to fight the virus and limit further infection. Pigs were selected for these experiments due to the similarities between the pig and human immune systems and physiology. The study provides vital information on the optimum number of doses that may be required in humans to provide maximum protection against COVID-19. The vaccine has since entered phase III clinical trials to test its effectiveness on humans.

Alongside vaccination testing, Pirbright has provided valuable high-throughput testing instruments to the UK’s national testing facility in Milton Keynes. Institute scientists and diagnostic staff are also volunteering across the national coronavirus testing centres and at Pirbright’s local NHS hospital to provide essential support and expertise.

In combination, these efforts are helping to support both the development of an effective vaccine to tackle the virus, as well as the rapid diagnosis of patients suspected of having COVID-19.

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Image Credit: © James Brittain 2020