Deadly pig disease variant stresses the need for animal biotech

A whole new strain of Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) has spread to six U.S. states, reports Pig Progress—highlighting the importance of advancing animal biotech.

PRRS “is endemic to most swine-producing countries,” said a study published last year, but this particular new variant is showing signs of rapid evolution and being difficult to eliminate.

PRRS is a very contagious disease that can cause great damage to the pork industry in the U.S.

Although not harmful to humans, this disease can greatly affect overall animal welfare and farmers’ livelihoods and is already costing Europe £1.3 billion per year.

Biotech can help

But biotech has an answer: pigs “completely resistant” to the disease, as Elena Rice, CSO of Genus PLC (and board member of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization — BIO), said during last year’s USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum.

With the help of CRISPR, Genus has removed a “tiny segment” of the pigs’ DNA and has developed hundreds of pigs that look, develop, grow, and breed like non-gene-edited pigs, “except they do not get sick from PRRS.”

Using gene editing to speed up the traditional gains achieved by generations of cross-breeding can allow farmers to “help protect our food supply and create a more healthy, sustainable food system” and to meet “global protein demand in a sustainable manner,” according to Rice.

New challenges on the horizon

What we currently need is a modernized policy approach to animal biotech, specifically streamlined regulatory oversight that allows for faster approval and commercialization worldwide, something BIO has long called for.

BIO’s interim CEO Rachel King appeared on The BioCentury Show, where she said the organization’s top priorities in 2023 include guiding implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA); FDA’s accelerated approval pathway; capital formation; and diversity, equity, and inclusion — all of which she calls “the pathway to excellence.”

Kicking off what’s expected to be a busy year for the industry in Washington, D.C., King discussed public perceptions of the biotech industry, the need to find and nurture political champions, and the pressing concerns of BIO’s members.

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