USDA greenlights first-in-class honeybee vaccine

Dalan Animal Health, a U.S. biotech company pioneering insect health, announced last week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has given a conditional license for its first-in-class honeybee vaccine aimed at protecting a vital species from American foulbrood disease.

The USDA’s Center for Veterinary Biologics “has granted a conditional license for vaccination of honeybees against American foulbrood disease caused by Paenibacillus larvae” for two years with the bacterin “developed by Dalan Animal Health and manufactured by Diamond Animal Health,” Dalan said in a press release.

The release said that “Dalan will distribute the vaccine on a limited basis to commercial beekeepers and anticipates having the vaccine available for purchase in the United States in 2023.”

“This is an exciting step forward for beekeepers, as we rely on antibiotic treatment that has limited effectiveness and requires lots of time and energy to apply to our hives,” Tauzer Apiaries, a board member of the California State Beekeepers Association, said, according to the press release.

Protecting the honeybee

The licensed vaccine contains killed whole-cell paenibacillus larvae bacteria.

As the company explained when publishing results of the trial establishing the vaccine’s safety and efficiency, their product “protects honeybees from American foulbrood through transgenerational immune priming, where the maternal organism can transfer immunity to a pathogen onto the next generation.”

The vaccine is administered by mixing it into queen feed, the food eaten by the worker bees, who then produce royal jelly and feed it to the queen bee, so that vaccine fragments are deposited into her ovaries. That means that all the still-developing larvae are exposed to the bacterin, and when they hatch they will be born with immunity.

“Pivotal efficacy studies have indicated that oral vaccination of honeybees may reduce larval death associated with American foulbrood infections caused by P. larvae,” the company added in its release.

What is killing the precious pollinators?

American foulbrood disease, one of the most widespread and destructive pathogens plaguing honeybees, “is a fatal bacterial disease of honey bee brood caused by the spore-forming bacterium paenibacillus larvae” which usually kills the infected brood at the pre-pupal or pupal stage, as BeeAware website explained.

The disease can essentially kill off not only the bees in the hive but also—since the hive js contaminated—the “robber” bees that come to steal honey and will end up spreading the disease.

Since there’s no way to prevent American foulbrood disease from spreading, and its spores “can remain viable for over 50 years and are very resistant to freezing and high temperatures,” the only treatment has been to incinerate the infected beehive, BeeAware said.

This honeybee vaccine, however, can change that.

“Our vaccine is a breakthrough in protecting honeybees,” Dalan Animal Health CEO Dr. Annette Kleiser said in a statement. “We are ready to change how we care for insects, impacting food production on a global scale.”

Dalan said it plans to develop vaccines for “other honeybee diseases and underserved industries, such as shrimp, mealworms, and insects used in agriculture.”

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