Australian horse owners who are battling against the deadly Hendra virus received an important boost in November 2012 with the introduction of Equivac® HeV vaccine. The Equivac HeV vaccine is now available for use under permit by accredited veterinarians thanks to an international public-private partnership created to make this important new vaccine accessible. The vaccine, launched by Zoetis, will help prevent the spread of the Hendra virus by breaking the cycle of transmission that puts humans at risk.

Hendra virus is a serious infectious disease. Thought to be transmitted by flying foxes contaminating horse feed or water, Hendra virus can spread from horse to horse and from horse to human. Since the discovery of the virus in the Queensland (Australia) suburb of Hendra in 1994, the virus has claimed the lives of 81 horses and 4 people.

“When Hendra virus was first identified, the country was taken by surprise. From the tragedy emerged an opportunity for Zoetis to demonstrate our willingness and preparedness to invest significant, full-time resources to bring a vaccine to market in only two years,” said Ben Reay, Equine Marketing Manager at Zoetis.

Although prevalence is low, Hendra virus is one of Australia’s most lethal, with 75 per cent of horses infected dying as a result of the disease, usually within the first 2 days of showing signs of illness. “Equivac HeV is well positioned to become the most effective defense against the virus,” Reay added.

The rapid development of the vaccine came about through an Australian-led international collaboration that saw Zoetis work in close partnership with CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory and US organizations including the Uniformed Service University for the Health Sciences (USU) and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine.

The Zoetis team played an integral role from the early stages of the vaccine’s development, contributing to the formulation, industrialization, production and distribution of the end product. Zoetis has also managed the regulatory approval process and will coordinate the training and accreditation of the veterinarians working to administer the vaccine. The product is being sold under permit issued by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).

“We are committed to responding rapidly to emerging infectious diseases in animals, especially to zoonotic infectious diseases which can threaten human health,” said Catherine Knupp, Vice President, Veterinary Medicine Research and Development, Zoetis. “Our involvement in the collaboration to develop Equivac HeV speaks to our determination to support the global veterinary community with effective vaccines to aid in the control of potentially life-threatening diseases such as Hendra virus.”

“By investing in the development of innovative medicines and vaccines, we are not only supporting the local research and development industry, but also ensuring we can respond rapidly to emerging infectious diseases in Australia such as Hendra virus,” added Mike van Blommestein, Division Director, Zoetis Australia.

Zoetis supports the Australian Veterinary Association’s recommendation that all horses in Australia are vaccinated against Hendra virus to protect humans from its potentially fatal outcome.

“Zoetis is collaborating with state based Chief Veterinary Officers and industry to ensure horses in areas evaluated as highest risk are supplied with the vaccine as a first priority,” advised van Blommestein.

Equivac HeV is available for use by accredited veterinarians only.  Further development work and data such as adverse events from the use of the vaccine by accredited veterinarians post- launch will be used to support the full registration of the vaccine by the APVMA.