Bird flu outbreak

Turkeys at a Minnesota poultry farm.

The Associated Press

Two Lincoln companies developed a DNA bird flu vaccine for chickens that recently became the first such vaccine licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Benchmark Biolabs, an AgriLabs subsidiary, and Nature Technology Corporation announced Wednesday that the vaccine had received conditional approval from the USDA.

It is the first DNA vaccine approved in the United States for influenza for veterinary use, and among the first DNA vaccines approved here for food animals.

AgriLabs said it will provide a tool for U.S. poultry producers if stockpiling is necessary for future outbreaks of avian influenza.

“Avian flu is a direct threat to the poultry industry, and an indirect threat to the human population, where a mutant flu virus could lead to a devastating epidemic,” said Dr. Tim Miller, chief scientific officer for AgriLabs. “The ability to effectively and cost-efficiently protect chicken flocks should help to prevent both of these threats."

The vaccine's approval is also a "major milestone in realizing the promise of DNA vaccines in animal health," said Steve Schram, president and CEO of AgriLabs.

The technology has applications to other pathogens and animal species, and AgriLabs is seeking partners to license its technology outside the U.S., the company said in a news release.

The vaccine combines a genetically coded flu protein, or antigen, with an immunological enhancer, or adjuvant, that were both developed by Benchmark in Lincoln. Nature Technology Corporation, also in Lincoln, developed the DNA vaccine backbone, called a plasmid vector.

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