New research has suggested that a vaccine could soon be developed to suppress the effects of necrotic enteritis, which has spiked following the reduction in the use of antibiotics in poultry.

Necrotic enteritis is estimated to cost the worldwide poultry industry £600m a year. The condition causes lesions in the intestines of birds that can hamper performance and lead to severe illness and death.

Researchers at the University of Exeter have paved the way for a vaccine to be developed by isolating the toxin, produced by the bacterium Clostridium perfringens, that causes much of the illness that birds will experience.

This toxin, NetB, has had its molecular structure unravelled by a joint research team from the University of Exeter, in collaboration with Ghent University, and Birkbeck College, University of London. They were able to exchange amino acids in NetB, which meant a non-toxic type could be identified.

Immunisation with this non-toxic NetB results in protection from Necrotic enteritis. This research has just been published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and in Vaccine.

Prof Richard Titball of the University of Exeter said that poultry producers were waiting “desperately” for this vaccine. “Our work will pave the way for the development of a vaccine that will help farmers tackle this devastating disease.”

Sergio Fernandes da Costa, also from the University of Exeter, added: “We are working closely with the animal health industry to develop a product that can be efficiently given to entire poultry flocks in feed or water.”

More on this topic

An interactive guide to a broiler’s gut