UK scientists are developing a new way to vaccinate chicks against the infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), which continues to cost the UK poultry industry £23.6m a year in losses.

The new method developed by scientists at the Institute for Animal Health (IAH) and Intervet UK would see vaccine delivered to birds while they are still in their egg using robotic “vaccinators”.

Paul Britton, head of the Coronavirus Group at IAH Compton, explained that the team had extracted a so-called spike protein from a pathogenic virus strain which triggers an immune response and incorporated it into a harmless non-pathogenic strain. 

Dr Britton said: “This hybrid virus was able to induce immunity when inoculated before hatching. When hatched chicks were exposed to the virulent M41 strain, we observed protection rates of up to 100%.

“We are currently trying to modify the vaccine further, in collaboration with Intervet, to make it suitable for commercial use.”