Apha laboratory receives £200m to tackle zoonotic diseases

The UK’s fight against zoonotic diseases – which can be transmitted from animals to humans and include avian flu and bovine TB – has received a major funding boost.

Defra secretary George Eustice has confirmed £200m of government money will be spent to revamp the Animal and Plant Health Agency (Apha) scientific laboratories at Weybridge, Surrey, and enhance its scientific and veterinary capability.

Weybridge is renowned for its specialist research and laboratory facilities, and its animal health science and disease control capabilities – with a focus on tackling and eradicating high-risk animal diseases. 

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New equipment and specialist testing facilities will mean Apha scientists can identify pathogens for existing and emerging threats posed by diseases spread by animals, and maintain the UK’s high biosecurity standards against bovine TB, salmonella and avian flu.

This investment in facilities will further enable Weybridge scientists to quickly sample, analyse and confirm the presence of bird flu in a location so Apha can act fast to tackle the threat. 

Alongside these existing threats, Defra says the UK must be prepared for future outbreaks of animal diseases which could pose a significant risk to UK agriculture, including African swine fever.

Global threats

This investment will offer Apha greater capacity to track diseases of concern across the globe and conduct research into a growing number of high-risk threats in advanced high-containment laboratories. 

Defra chief scientific advisor Gideon Henderson said the substantial investment in Apha “recognises the essential role of this government laboratory, and will enable its excellent scientists to continue at the forefront of research and policy to protect the country, boosting our resilience and strengthening our understanding of health risks to, and from, animals and plants”.

UK chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said fast, reliable testing and world-class animal disease surveillance would continue to be vital in halting the spread of animal diseases and mitigating the risk of pandemics. “This investment ensures Apha can continue its critical role in animal health science and help stop the spread of disease,” she added.