22 May, 2012 9:40AM AEST
By Samantha Turnbull and Justine Frazier
Scientists say a Hendra virus vaccine should be on the market in a matter of months
A vaccine against the deadly Hendra virus is expected to be available next year.
The virus, which is harboured and spread by fruit bats, killed 10 horses on eight New South Wales north coast properties in 2011.
The Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Victoria has been working on a Hendra vaccine since 1994 when the virus was first identified in Brisbane.
Professor Martyn Jeggo, from the animal health laboratory, said the vaccine was almost ready to go.
"We're very close indeed," he said.
"The research has been done and we're in the process now of meeting the regulatory requirements that have to be met before the vaccine can be put commercially on the market."
The process of meeting the regulatory requirements includes proving the vaccine causes no harm to hoses.
"So we need to inject a significant number of horses to see there are no adverse effects," Prof Jeggo said.
The vaccine's effectiveness against Hendra also has to be proven, which will involve vaccinating several horses and deliberately infecting them with the virus.
Prof Jeggo said the vaccine would also benefit humans who contract the virus from hoses.
"Humans have only become infected with Hendra from horses, so if we protect horses of course then we're going to protect humans," he said.
If the vaccine makes it through the regulatory process quickly, it may be available commercially before the 2013 high-risk Hendra period which begins in May.
"We would expect most people who have horses at risk in NSW and Queensland would routinely vaccinate their horses," Prof Jeggo said.
"At the moment we don't know if the horse will have to be vaccinated annually, every three years or if the vaccine will protect for life."
He said even though scientists had been working on the vaccine since 1994, its development had been rapid.
"This is a fairly rare disease so the amount of work we've been able to do has been limited," he said.
"It also had to be done in high containment laboratories because it is a very nasty virus... it takes time... but the breakthrough came about a year-and-a -half ago, so this is a remarkably quick time.
"It's been a quick vaccine development period."
Download this mp3 file Professor Martyn Jeggo