Animal health

Prepared for
the Next

Highly infectious diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), can emerge suddenly and spread with great speed. Boehringer Ingelheim has long-standing experience in this field. Based on this, the company works on innovative R&D technologies and enhanced surveillance in order to support its partners for the next outbreak.

Every livestock owner’s worst nightmare came true in the UK in 2001: An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) occurred on February 21. This viral disease spread throughout the country within few days and reached the European mainland on March 13. More than four million animals, in particular cattle and pigs, had to be culled before the end of the epidemic was finally declared almost a year later.

FMD is an example of a disease that recurrently flares up in landscapes of previous infection, but also crosses borders and spreads to new areas. It mainly affects livestock such as cattle, swine, sheep, and goats. However, wild animals such as wild boars, camels, and elephants can also be infected. Animal products, such as meat or milk, are additional sources of contamination and spread of this disease. Humans can neither become infected nor transmit the virus to others. The virus that causes the disease can be transported in the air over a number of miles, thus spreading the disease rapidly and across borders even before the initial outbreak has been recognized.

Veterinarians, public health experts, and infectious disease researchers refer in this context to transboundary and emerging diseases (TEDs). If just one animal in a herd is infected, all animals in the herd may have to be culled to prevent further transmissions and spread. This not only leads to the unnecessary loss of animal life and economic damage; it can also jeopardize food security by disrupting supply chains.

Growing Risk of Zoonoses

Some TEDs are zoonotic. They can pass from animals to humans. While most animal diseases cannot pass to humans, the few that do are of major concern to human health: The majority of new and emerging infectious diseases have their origin in animals, such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and rabies virus. SARS-CoV-2 is presumably another example. The number of zoonoses is increasing around the world. One reason for this is that humans are encroaching ever further onto wild animals’ habitats. In addition, global transport flows make it easier for pathogens to spread from their traditional areas of circulation.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Identifies Outbreaks of Diseases

Time is of the essence when an outbreak occurs. To effectively curb an epidemic, it must first of all be detected – and as quickly as possible. For this reason, Boehringer Ingelheim entered into a partnership with the British company Lifebit Biotech in the summer of 2021. “External innovation is an increasingly important aspect of our research and development approach,” remarks Haaksma. Lifebit Biotech uses natural language processing (NLP) and AI to analyze huge volumes of data. Every day, more than 500 million new tweets, three million news articles, and thousands of scientific papers appear online. It is impossible to effectively analyze this flood of scientifically relevant information manually. Lifebit Biotech’s AI monitors these sources in real time and interprets them. It also factors in real data such as loss claims, billing activities, and the data of animal patients, known as real world evidence (RWE). AI-based analysis enables greatly improved monitoring of animal disease-related data worldwide, which in turn speeds up the detection process: an invaluable advantage whenever the next outbreak occurs.

Focus areas

Innovative vaccine solutions for transboundary and emerging diseases

Focus areas

Updating the VPH vaccine portfolio

Focus areas

Vaccine batch production for clinical studies

Focus areas

Optimizing yield of virus to produce more vaccines

Focus areas

Scale-up of new vaccine strains