SDSU and pharmaceutical company team up against E. coli


SDSU is partnering with animal health leader Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. to develop a new technology to protect pigs against a deadly form of E. coli.

SDSU filed a patent application before publishing its research findings on the technology, developed by assistant professor Weiping Zhang and professor David Francis in SDSU’s Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences Department. Their work focused on a group of E. coli bacteria called enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli, or ETEC. ETEC bacteria produce toxins called enterotoxins that affect the tissues lining the intestine and cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Currently, there are no preventative solutions offered by the major veterinary biological companies to combat ETEC. Denichiro Otsuga, director of SDSU’s Technology Transfer Office, or TTO, saw a commercialization opportunity in the SDSU invention to provide the solution to the unanswered market need. However, in order for the pork producers to take advantage of the SDSU invention and reduce their losses to ETEC, SDSU needed an industrial partner to help commercialize the technology.

“True to its land-grant mission, SDSU provides solutions to problems people face in the region, often through research activities but also by partnering with companies,” Otsuga said. “The partnership between SDSU and Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica already has produced a product that benefits producers and pigs. SDSU and the University of Minnesota collaborated years ago in developing a patented vaccine for PRRS, or porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, that has been licensed to Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc. and sold as a vaccine to prevent the death of piglets.”

That long-standing relationship with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica made SDSU look to the company for a possible partner on development of the latest SDSU invention to protect the health of swine herds and create value to the producers.

SDSU researchers’ innovation is that they altered the toxin genes to make the bacterium produce a non-poisonous “toxoid,” then genetically fused the genes of two modified toxins to enhance their immune reaction. The bacterium producing the resulting “fusion protein” plus other important products could be used to develop a vaccine to fight against the ETEC bacteria.

“Once commercialized, the innovation from SDSU could be made available as a product, a vaccine, to protect weaning pigs from E. coli infections. When such a vaccine becomes available, it would add value to the swine industry, including South Dakota producers,” said Denichiro Otsuga, director of SDSU’s Technology Transfer Office. “The technology also has possible applications in human health, for which Dr. Zhang is pursuing and developing a patent position in collaboration with the TTO.”

SDSU’s Technology Transfer Office works with SDSU scientists to protect the intellectual property they develop through their research. The office also works with private industry to bring those SDSU discoveries out of the laboratory and into the marketplace where they can provide practical solutions to the problems people face.

Besides causing diarrheal illness in farm animals such as pigs, ETEC strains are a major cause of bacterial-caused diarrhea in human populations in the developing world. ETEC is the chief cause of traveler’s diarrhea. The World Health Organization estimates that ETEC causes approximately 210 million cases of illness in humans and 380,000 deaths, mostly in children in developing countries.

The research is one of the ongoing projects in SDSU’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Vaccinology, which looks for new ways to diagnose and treat infectious disease in humans and domestic animals.

The Boehringer Ingelheim group is a pharmaceutical company headquartered in Ingelheim, Germany. It operates globally with 145 affiliates and more than 42,000 employees. In 2010, Boehringer Ingelheim posted net sales of approximately $16.7 billion (about 12.6 billion euro) while spending almost 24 percent of net sales in its largest business segment, Prescription Medicines, on research and development.

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