First ever commercial diagnostic test for deadly equine virus now available

First ever commercial diagnostic test for deadly equine virus now available

A diagnostic test, able to identify a deadly virus believed to be present in up to 10% of horses, is now available for the first time.

 

New Equine Virus (NEV) was first identified in 2013 by Isabel Fidalgo Carvalho. Isabel went on to found Portugal based equine biotech firm, Equigerminal to develop an accurate and commercially viable NEV diagnostic test that can be used by vets, vet labs and horse owners.

 

After many years of research and testing, the diagnostic test is now launching to the equine community.

 

NEV - the equine equivalent of HIV - is often misdiagnosed or hidden by other diseases that induce similar symptoms, like anaemia and neurological issues in horses. It is most commonly confused with the Swamp Fever virus (EIAV) and Equine Herpesviruses (EHV)

 

Horses thought to have the highly-contagious Swamp Fever can be ordered to be culled by officials in an attempt to stop its spread - a tragedy for the horses, and highly distressing and costly for owners.

 

By testing a number of horses with anaemia, Equigerminal researchers first believed they had found the presence of a divergent strain of the Swamp Fever Virus (EIAV) - because the horses cross reacted* with EIAV, but were negative in the official tests**. But subsequent research found they were actually suffering from NEV.

 

NEV, which can lead to severe neurological diseases and may prove fatal, can now be identified through the use of the new diagnostic test developed by Equigerminal.

 

A veterinarian is required to take the horse’s blood which is sent to the Equigerminal lab where it is tested and then results are returned to the owner/vet.

 

Once the horse has been tested, the appropriate treatment can be given and the spread of the disease prevented. Treatment is currently targeted towards improving the general wellbeing of the horse, health monitoring, and boosting the animal’s immune system. The next stage is to find a treatment, and ideally a cure for NEV.

 

Equigerminal is an established biotech company specialising in equine health. It already offers more than 60 lab-testing services to horse owners and vets and it is currently crowdfunding to create awareness regarding NEV: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/equigerminal-pets#/

 

NEV was discovered by Portuguese scientist and veterinarian Isabel Fidalgo Carvalho while completing her PhD in Equine Sciences at the Universities of Oporto and Pittsburgh.

 

“During my time at University and at Equigerminal, I noticed unusual anaemia and severe neurological signs in horses, which in my PhD I wrongly hypothesized to be attributed to Swamp Fever.” Said Dr Carvalho.

 

“I then realized, through the samples, that this virus was actually closer to equine HIV – New Equine Virus, or NEV.”

 

Carvalho launched Equigerminal in 2011 with fellow equine scientist, inventor and entrepreneur, Alexandre Vieira Pires.

 

“We have spent the last five years developing a diagnostic test and a potential cure for NEV,” explained Pires.

 

“We now need to raise awareness of the problem and help vets to diagnose this disease correctly.”

 

Equigerminal hopes to develop further equine healthcare and welfare products and services, such as DNA testing services and pathogen screening to aid the world’s almost 60 million horses.

 

*cross reacted: when viruses are very similar there is a cross-reaction between them. It is like a key-lock fitting. When the locks are very similar the keys can open other locks, but not in the proper way. With viruses (keys) and specific antibodies (locks) against viruses this can happen in a similar way. Equigerminal found a fit between some viral proteins and some antibodies, but not at 100%. This is known as a cross-reaction. The viruses are from the same genera but are different or divergent. There is cross reaction between some HIV-1 viral proteins and EIAV viral proteins. But, because the virus was found in horses, the scientists thought at first that it was an EIAV divergent virus. Until 2013, Equigerminal believed that this cross-reaction could be explained because the 'key' the virus was a swamp fever virus that have evolved (diverged) overtime. But with time, when they isolated and characterised the new virus they found that the viral small parts of proteins (peptides) of the isolated virus were 100% similar to HIV-1. Thus they knew they were in the presence of a new virus and not of a swamp fever virus that had evolved.

** The official EIAV test dates from 1972 and uses a specific viral protein (keys) as baits to bind antibodies in horse sera (lock). This test has not been updated. Thus, the official and old tests are very simple and give clear-cut results. The official tests cannot detect this cross-reactivity that Equigerminal has seen in its research. These tests are designed to give more false negatives and avoid false positive results.