Pigeon Rota Virus

 Current disease outbreak in Victoria.Update 5th May 2017The RSPCA released today a statement on Rota virus and racing for 2117. Please see below    RSPCA NSW WARNING: PROPOSED PIGEON RACING WILL SPREAD DEADLY ROTAVIRUS Nation NnnnnnNnnNational Rota Virus Update

Update 6th August 2018

A review on the progress of the Rota virus vaccine and the performance of the ANRPB.

 

Dr Colin Walker

 

Fanciers will have noted that in the first half of 2017 I was keen to involve the ANRPB ( the Board ) in the diagnostics associated with Rota virus and then later the development of a Rota virus vaccine. I thought it would be to the sports advantage to have a national body to represent it. Since then my opinion has changed. I no longer support the Board – at least under the current system. I have attempted to disassociate myself from the Board and do not wish to be connected with decisions that it has made. In my opinion information has been either held back or misrepresented to the pigeon fanciers of Australia by the Board. I feel that it is important that the fanciers of Australia understand the progress of events since mid 2017.  

 

 

Rota Contracts and their Implication for Australian Fanciers.

 

The contract between the Board and Latrobe University ( LTU)

 

After much negotiation about the ownership of intellectual property (IP) , linkage grants ,lump sum versus annual payments and other issues, a contract between LTU and the Board  was ready for signing in the first half of 2017. Essentially the contract was an invoice for $167,000 and was a bill for services rendered by LTU for the research and development of the Rota vaccine to the Board. In this contract the $167,000 owed by the Board would be paid in 3 approximately equal annual instalments.  The first payment of $60,000 was already available having been raised through donation.  A levy would be placed on the sale of the vaccine. This income would flow to the Board and be used to make the other two payments to LTU. If insufficient sums were accumulated I would act as guarantor. Once these payments had been met and the years rolled by, additional funds as they accumulated would initially be made available for research into Rota virus and later for activities to promote and support pigeon racing.

 

 LTU would own the intellectual property (IP), ie the technology used to make the vaccine. The Board would own the vaccine. The Board would hire a vaccine company to make and distribute the vaccine. The Australian pigeon community therefore found itself in a unique situation. Thanks to the work of its supporters, the Board now owned a potentially valuable asset that would generate an income stream that in the short term could be used, after LTU had been paid, to fund Rota research and in the longer term could be used to fund activities that benefited and promoted pigeon racing. The opportunities were endless.

However, the Board did not sign the contract.

 

Why did the Board not sign the contract?

 

On 1 November 2017, the Board released the following statement,

 

“In August, the ANRPB learned that it was being required to meet the full cost for stage one of the vaccine development ($169,185 not $60,000) prior to releasing the trial vaccine to Treidlia Biovet Pty Ltd (Dr Mark White) for commercial production. Additionally, Latrobe were proposing further research and development in stage two (a 3-year $450k project). However, this also required a significant forward looking financial contribution by the ANRPB.”

 

 The Board believed that it could be liable for $450,000 or more and advised the Australian pigeon community that it was “not able to take on the significant contractual and financial liability” and for this reason could not sign the contract with LTU. The Board advised that a new contract arrangement would need to be reached.

 

 This information however does not reflect the actual situation. There were two proposals involved. Confusion seems to have developed within the Board between these two. The first was a simple invoice for services rendered by LTU for the research and development of the vaccine for $167,000. A copy of the itemised invoice is below.

The second proposal was a research project proposed by Prof Mike Stear on 31August   2017. My wife Meredith (who has a PhD and is an adjunct senior research fellow at Monash Uni  and therefore has a good understanding of research proposals) and I had attended a meeting at Agribio that was also attended by seven AgriBio researchers several days earlier.

 

Prof Stear’s email correspondence received after this meeting is below.


“Dear Colin,

 

Thank you to you and your wife for coming to AgriBio on Monday.

We have the potential to be a very good team together.

As promised, we’ve put our heads together and come up with a formal proposal for you.

 

La Trobe University proposes a PhD position to provide focussed time to help within a LTU/Ag Victoria professional team that has grown around this issue.

A full PhD position (stipend and operating costs) will cost about $50k per year for 3 years.
However, a good student has been identified who will very likely be eligible for a Commonwealth scholarship which reduces the cost to $25k per year. Such industry cash will also be able to be used to leverage further Commonwealth funds along with the current Linkage grant around vaccine development.

We are seeking industry support for such a position to the total of $25k per year for 3 years plus 3 months stipend ($2.5 k per month) until the full Commonwealth stipend comes on stream in October.

 

Please contact us if you have any questions or queries.

We look forward to working with you.

 

 

Best wishes,

 

Mike”

 

 

In these copies of the original documents the financial amounts involved are clearly detailed.

The invoice from LTU for services rendered was for a total of $167,000 payable in three amounts over 3 years ( approximately $55,000 per year for 3 years ) . This was the full amount owing. There were no other monies due or owing.

 

 In his proposal, Dr Stear clearly states that if the Board would like LTU to do the required Rota virus research, then LTU would be looking for industry support of $25,000/year. This proposal was presented to the Board. The Board could then decide whether it wanted to take up this offer or not. I personally thought that the offer was generous, good value for money and would serve the pigeon fanciers of Australia well. As it turned out, however, the Board decided not to take up the offer.

 

This meant the Board owed a fixed sum total of $167,000 of which the first payment of $60,000 had already been donated by the pigeon fanciers of Australia. (As explained in earlier Updates the other two payments were to paid for with a levy placed on vaccine sales with me acting as guarantor)

 

Had the Board decided in addition to take up the offer made by Dr Stear they would need to find an additional $25,000 for 3 years.

 

So how did the Board think that it could be liable for $450,000 or more?

 

 Confusion within the Board seems to have arisen over the contracts and particularly the funding of ARC linkage grants. In this system, operated by The Australian Research Council ( ARC) within the Australian government, industry ( in this case, the Australian pigeon industry ) is “linked” with research organisations ( in this case LTU ). Researchers get research opportunities that directly benefit industry while industry gets the direct benefit of that research. The government is keen to develop these relationships as both parties benefit and will match every $1 that the industry can raise with about $2. Initially , as explained in previous updates, I  thought that this type of grant would apply to the LTU invoice for $167,000 but this turned out not to be the case.  This is because this work was classed as a “proof of concept” rather than actual research. The Board was notified of this immediately. The Board would therefore have to pay the whole $167,000. The proposal suggested by Dr Stear, as he explains, would be eligible for a grant. Of course, had the Board decided to proceed with this proposal, it would only have done so once a grant had in fact been secured. 

 

The Board received the following legal advice

 

That $167,000 formed the one third to enable a Linkage grant of approx $300,000 - a total of approx $450,000 on the whole project.”

 

This legal advice is obviously not correct. Either the solicitors simply gave wrong advice or alternatively were not given the correct information by the Board on which to base that advice. Either way, it was this advice and also uncertainty within the Board that led to the fateful decision by the Board not to sign the contract with LTU. It can be pretty hard for a lay person to go against a solicitor’s advice but what surprises me is that all Board members actually had direct access to the contracts themselves and could read them for themselves. Both contracts I feel are pretty straight forward. One is a simple bill for services rendered and the other was never taken up

 

As late as April this year, a Board member sent me the email below:

 

“The ANRPB  wanted to ensure the board members were not exposed to contract obligations that could be as high as $450K”

 

I replied  “The Board members were not exposed. I am sure you have seen the initial contract for the research and development for making the vaccine from LTU and also Prof Stear’s research contract. The amounts involved are clearly detailed. $167,000 and $25,000 per year (if we decided to proceed) respectively.

 

Clearly some Board members either did not read the contract that they voted against signing or, if they did, they did not understand it.

 

In my opinion the Board not signing the initial contract with LTU was an extremely bad decision that has impacted the entire pigeon racing community of Australia. The decision not to sign was particularly disappointing because it appears to have been based on a failure to understand the contracts.

 

So what were the ramifications of the Board not signing?

 

The Board not signing the contract had four immediate effects

1/ Delay – a new contract had to be negotiated. This took several months and delayed work on the vaccine by over 6 months. Effectively the decision by the Board not to sign robbed the pigeon fanciers of Australia any opportunity of having the vaccine available for racing and showing in 2018.

2/ The vaccine was given to the vaccine manufacturer, Treidlia Biovet. – In the new contract effective ownership of the vaccine was relinquished by the Board and given ( for no charge ) to Treidlia.

3/ The decision strained the Board’s relationship with LTU.  LTU had done the work and wanted to be paid. In one meeting in the middle of the year attended by Dr Travis Beddoe ( developer of the vaccine ), Caroline Bathje ( commercialisation officer at LTU), Charles Hider ( solicitor) and myself, Caroline expressed concern that LTU had done all of this work, was considerably “out of pocket” and it now appeared that they may not be paid. Charles assured her “don’t worry you will get paid”. Also at the same meeting Caroline reminded Travis that he was not to do any further work on the Rota vaccine until the payment issue had been resolved.

4/ The decision placed in jeopardy the granting of an emergency permit by the APVMA for the Rota vaccine despite letters of support from two state chief veterinary officers. Emergency permits can be granted in about 9 weeks. Full vaccine APVMA registrations prior to vaccinerelease take years.

 

 The new or second contract.

 

Because the Board would not sign the initial contract, new contract arrangements had to be made. A new contract was agreed upon by the Board chairman at the time and Dan Grant ( LTU staff member , one of LTU’s seven pro vice chancellors ). Board members that I was in contact with and I were notified of this by an email after the event. Board members later supported the chairman’s decision.

 

 In the new contract the Board would give the $60,000 of fanciers’ donated money as an interest free loan to Tredlia. Treidlia, rather than the Board , would then enter into a contract with LTU. In this contract, LTU would license the vaccine IP to Treidlia for $60,000 plus a royalty of 2%  on sales. Treidlia would make and sell the vaccine. Treidlia would repay the $60,000 to the Board at the rate of 2% of nett sales of vaccine per year. The royalties to LTU were to cover the research debt incurred by the Board during the development of the trial vaccine.

 

After all of the advantages to Australian pigeon fanciers that the initial contract offered, I was extremely disappointed with the second contract. Essentially the Board had given effective  ownership of the vaccine, as well as $60,000 of donated fancier funds as an interest-free loan, to a private company for that company to develop a new product. That product  would then be sold with 100% of the profits going to that company. The vaccine had become another Treidlia Biovet product.

 

Under the initial contract, after LTU was paid for the development of the vaccine and Treidlia was paid for making the vaccine, a profit would have flowed to the Board. Working on 2000 fanciers vaccinating 200 birds ( I realise that there could be fewer fanciers or more birds etc but just using these numbers as a guide ) and a levy of 10 cents per dose and remembering that each bird is likely to need two doses, this would generate an income to the Board of $ 80,000 annually. This represents a cost of $40 per year for a fancier with 200 birds – cheap I feel for the amount of useful information that could be gained . Using the same figures a levy of 5 cents per dose would have cost a fancier with 200 birds $20 per year and generated $40,000.

Under the new or second contract however the Board will make no money but simply be paid back its $60,000 at a rate of 2% of sales until the money is repaid.  Using the same figures as  above ( ie 2000 fanciers with 200 birds vaccinated twice) and the vaccine being sold for 40 cents a dose, this would mean the total value of sales would be $320,000 per year. 2% of this is $6,400. This would mean it would take about 10 years just for the Board to get its money back  Treidlia does have the option of paying the money back more quickly but is not obligated to do so.

 

Under this contract the Board no longer owns the vaccine and is no longer the primary decision maker regarding the vaccine. In the contract there is no provision for the Board to be involved in any decision making process involving the vaccine. All decisions regarding manufacture, distribution and manufacture are Treidlia’s. Also there is no requirement for Treidlia to actually make a vaccine. To fulfil the contract requirements Treidlia is to make a reasonable effort to commercialise the vaccine but does not guarantee to do so.  

 

The Board has in effect become superfluous to matters regarding the vaccine. The vaccine has simply become another Treidlia product. The final state of play is that LTU owns the IP. This IP has been licenced to Treidlia to make the vaccine which now owns the vaccine. The Board simply gets its money back slowly over years.

 

Like many fanciers who donated money through their federation for the vaccine, I was keen for the Board to release a statement explaining how that money had been spent. I asked the Board chairman if he was going to release details of what the Board had arranged in regard to the Rota virus vaccine to the pigeon fanciers of Australia. The Board chairman replied that he had spoken to several pigeon fanciers who had experience in business and banking and that they had advised him that the details should not be released, and that the contract should be commercially confidential .  Another Board member emailed me and stated that the Board would not release details in order to “protect” the Board, Mark White and Treidlia!

 

I strongly disagreed with this decision. As the president of one of Victoria’s largest federations said to me, “all of this secrecy is no good”. In my opinion, the Board needs to be open and transparent when representing the pigeon fanciers of Australia. One fancier, I spoke to recently, personally donated $1500. He wanted to know how his money has been spent. Not an unreasonable request I think. I personally think it was a big mistake by the Board not to have released details of the agreement and I feel that this will make it very difficult in future for the Board to raise further funds if required. The contract has a clause stating that the Board is not to release details of the contract. I feel that the Board should not have agreed to this. The Board was entrusted with the money by the pigeon fanciers of Australia who have a right to know what is being done with that money. Was it the Boards money to give away? Fanciers have a right to know how their money has been spent particularly since the contract does not ensure that the vaccine will be produced. The contract also specifically states that the Board cannot claim the money back. Why is there a need for such a confidentiality clause in such a simple contract? To me this suggests that one or either party is trying to hide something. There is nothing in the contract that reveals anything about Tredlia’s financial situation. The only sum mentioned is  $60,000 of fancier’s money.

 

To my knowledge, the late Graham Wark, was the only Board member who argued against agreeing to the second contract. He was advised by the Board chairman that all Board members should stick together and that Graham should reconsider his position on the Board! I was cc’ed into one email from Graham to the Board where he rather succinctly, attempted to explain the situation as he saw it to other Board members. The chairman suggested to Graham that he had not written the email and should not take credit for something that someone else had written. Graham humbly explained that he had, in fact, written the email.

 

One Board member advised me that the Board could not be involved with vaccine ownership and sales as it was a non-profit organisation. I wondered how such large organisations as Medecin sans Frontiers and some insurance companies are not for profit. Inquiries have revealed that the Board could have retained its “not for profit” status, provided any funds generated were churned back into the activities of the Board and not taken as profit. It is possible to be a “not for profit” and receive an income stream provided any profits are not taken but redirected back into the organisation to support its aims and activities. Given the current situation, using any vaccine levy funds for Rota research would have been an ideal use of those funds.

 

Another Board member advised me recently that the Board relies on donations for funding. I personally believe that most fanciers and federations would be hesitant to donate money to the Board ever again.

 

 Even today there seems to be some confusion within the Board about this whole issue.. About 3 months ago a board member said to me “Who said the Board would own the vaccine?” This was after he had voted to sign the second contract. It seems that some board members did not realise what they were actually voting about and its consequences and precisely what they were giving away. In the contract, the Board engaged LTU to research and develop the making of a pigeon Rota virus vaccine. LTU did this and issued an invoice to the Board. Did the Board member in question think that the Board was paying LTU to make a vaccine for somebody else?

 

Another Board member explained to me in an email several months ago, “My decision making in the recent process was based on to(sic) ensure the vaccine gets produced as quickly as possible”. Ironic seeing that the board decision not to sign delayed the whole process by months.

 

The activities of the Board should be to promote the hobby. I can’t see how this can be served by giving assets away, particularly when the assets have been acquired through the voluntary work of fanciers to develop that asset and through funds donated by fanciers.

 

 I have been fortunate enough to have attended and spoken at several American Union (AU) conventions in America. The AU has an income stream that is used to promote the sport. The AU pays a full time salary to an individual whose specific job is to promote the sport of pigeon racing.AU conventions are conducted in large city hotels. Uniformed staff  hand out brochures in the hotel foyer to members of the public promoting “Thoroughbreds of the Sky”. A scholarship is created that pays for the education of an underprivileged student. The sport in America is then able to promote the fact that someone was able to become a doctor or lawyer for example, because of pigeon racing.

 

With an income stream from the vaccine, the Australian Board could have done all of these things and more. Certainly it is good for the ANRPB to award prizes to successful fanciers, as it now does, and it is nice also for it to acknowledge the contribution of pigeons in the world wars but the Second World War is already two generations ago. What is the Boards plan for the future? Is there a vision? The best thing that any national board can do for its members is to actually promote the sport in the wider community for without new members any organisation just gets smaller and smaller.

 

The Board no longer owns the vaccine, has no rights associated with it and makes no money from it. All that happens is that the Board simply gets its money back at 2% of sales over many years. An asset, an income stream, a research plan and long term funding for the sport---all gone.

 

The Aussie Vaccine Overseas.

At the recent International Veterinary Convention on pigeons in Poland I was approached by a member of the “International Committee of Experts” in The Chinese Racing Pigeon Federation. He wanted to place an order of 2 million doses of Rota vaccine with me. I explained that the vaccine had been given to Treidlia Biovet and that I would pass the order on. Currently China has 300,000 pigeon fanciers. 20 million young pigeons are bred each year. There are 800 one loft races. In 500 of these there are over 4000 pigeons.

The Rota virus in Europe is not the same but very similar to the one we have in Australia. The two are sufficiently similar that the Australian vaccine could be used to immunise European birds. With time a European company would be expected to make a vaccine but this is likely to take several years. The Australian vaccine could be used in the mean time.

There are regulatory hurdles to address when sending vaccine to overseas markets but given the size of the markets. I believe, that they are worth addressing. Certainly there is potential for the vaccine owner.

 

Well at least we have a vaccine

A Rota vaccine was always going to be available eventually. To me, it is just a shame that the only people to make money from the vaccine are Treidlia and LTU rather than the pigeon fanciers of Australia. It is not, so much, that pigeon fanciers want the money, but rather what that money could have been used for to promote the sport. It was the pigeon racing community that donated the money to get things rolling in the first place and all of the initial work was done on their behalf. To me, it is a shame that the Board decided to give this away.

 

 

Distribution of the vaccine.

 

On March 16, the Board released a statement suggesting a plan for distribution of the vaccine. In this proposal fanciers and clubs that had donated money for the development of the Rota vaccine would, in the case of the vaccine being in limited supply, receive access to the vaccine first. Vaccine would be made available to other fanciers as more vaccine became available. Many fanciers regarded this as a good initiative and felt that it was right that fanciers who had donated money should receive priority. Others however disagreed. There were heated discussions in some federation meetings. One Melbourne federation hastily wrote off to the Board stating that they had been one of the first to donate and wanted to ensure that they got access to the vaccine as soon as it was available. Many fanciers gained the impression that the Board, in some way, had at least some control over vaccine distribution.

 

All of this however was simply a discussion that we did not need to have. Unnecessary angst between fanciers over this issue was created. What the Board did not realise was that it could have no say in how the vaccine would be distributed.

 

The vaccine is a new vaccine and is not registered. It is made for a new disease. No vaccine for Rota virus had ever been made for, or used in birds before. The idea that the vaccine would be an open seller was , to say the least, extremely unlikely. The APVMA has never in the past allowed such a product to be supplied except through veterinarians. More often than not such products have also to be given under veterinary supervision or in fact by vets themselves. There was no evidence that there would be an exception here. Vets are used, in such situations, as a buffer by the APVMA between the vaccine supplier and end user to ensure that such products are used correctly.

 

In such instances the vaccine manufacturer can supply the vaccine only to veterinarians and veterinarians in turn can only supply the vaccine to their bone fide clients. The Board cannot tell the manufacturer which vets to supply and also, in turn, cannot tell a vet which of their clients to supply. The Board is in fact superfluous to the vaccines distribution.

 

Even if the vaccine was an open seller, in the contract that the Board signed with the vaccine manufacturer there is no provision for the Board to have any control over the vaccine’s distribution, manufacture, pricing or indeed anything to do with the vaccine. The Board signed a contract that gives it no contractual rights. This means that the best the Board could do in this unlikely situation is simply make suggestions to the manufacturer as to how it might like the vaccine distributed etc. Taking any such advice is purely at the manufacturer’s discretion.

 

 The way the vaccine will be distributed will be determined by the APVMA and the manufacturer, Treidlia Biovet and not by the Board.

 

 

Future of the Board.

In several states there are large federations that do not support the Board. Does the Board have the confidence of Australian pigeon fanciers? Does the Board represent the majority of Australian pigeon fanciers? I would suggest that the majority of fanciers do not even know who their state Board member is. Were these representatives democratically elected?   What will the Board do with the 2% of the vaccine sales money each year?  Will it decide to keep this secret too? What is the future of the Board? There are many questions to be answered.

 

There are several national issues currently facing Australian pigeon fanciers that a national board should be involving itself with proactively. Veterinary issues include-

1/ Investigating the “swollen eye” problem affecting race birds in all states.

2/ Reporting on the sub -unit vaccine for Circo virus currently being worked on in Poland

3/ Investigating the increasing significance of the bacterium, Pelistega as a cause of respiratory infection in pigeons

4/ Ongoing Rota research- Because Australia no longer has funding the focus of Rota research has now shifted from Australia to Europe. We need to keep abreast of this and assist where we can.

5/ Educating Australian fanciers about the risk their birds pose to other parts of the world if they are exported , for example, to international one loft races. Who wants to be the Australian fancier who gives the Australian Rota virus to South Africa or China? How would the international pigeon community view this if the Board failed to make fanciers aware of this risk?

 

The Board should be the ultimate source of factual information. Only recently however we had the debacle over how long it would take for pigeons to become immune after vaccination against Rota virus. The Board insisted that the vaccine would be maximally effective 5 weeks after inoculation. No vaccine like this has been made against this virus and used in birds before. No immune curve studies have been done. How could anyone know? The trial study results were presented to the Board but these were discounted. The end result was that a member of the Board had to release a separate statement warning fanciers that a recent Board release may not be correct.

 

What say do federations or fanciers have in the decisions of the Board? Will the Board join the Federation Columbophile International ( FCI) ?  Is this a good use of fanciers’ funds? Are there advantages to us to join the international pigeon community? Disappointingly, I think that many fanciers have lost confidence in the Board and I feel that if another truly important national issue appeared , the tendency of many fanciers and federations would be to deliberately not involve the current Board.

 

We need a pro-active, forward thinking, funded Board that has been democratically elected , has the confidence of pigeon fanciers and is referred to as an authority. Does the current Board fulfil any of these criteria?

 

The role of Dr Mark White.

 I want to stress that I am in no way critical of Dr Mark White at Treidlia Biovet. In the initial contract he would have been invited, along with other vaccine companies to quote for the production of the vaccine.

Because, however, he has been involved in discussions right from the beginning when making a vaccine was being initially mooted, he was the logical choice. The decision by the Board not to sign the initial contract was totally independent of him. He found himself in the challenging position of having to move an experimental vaccine that had been made to a budget in ultra-short time and with minimal testing to commercial production. Many would have walked away. He has remained committed to the task and professional throughout.

 

 

Strawberry fields for ever

“Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see, strawberry fields forever”  Lyric from the song Strawberry Fields” by the Beatles .

 

During the course of events there were inaccuracies that were disseminated as fact by some Board members to other Board members. Why this happened is unclear but it was confusing for all concerned. How could board members be expected to make good decisions if they were not supplied with correct information?

An example is below and just makes no sense on many levels. This email was sent to Board members

 

  • “For the owners of the cell line there is a flat fee to be paid over 3 years. The owner of the cell line is a Research Company in the USA. This fact perhaps explains why the vice Chancellor of LTU informed Stephen Eggleton that the first contract (as Graham has referred to it as) was “dead and buried.” It is now clear that LTU did not own the cell line for the trial vaccine and therefore could not sell ownership of same to the ANRPB, Dr Walker, or Dr White. LTU was only in a position to market the Intellectual Property for the trial vaccine. It appears that this is why LTU called a halt to the previous contract process.

 

I believe that the Board can take some comfort in the knowledge that there were matters beyond our control (ownership of the cell line) that stalled the process.”

 

 An E. coli bacteria cell line was one of many materials used by LTU to make the vaccine.( This has been described in detail in earlier Rota virus updates- a section of Rota DNA that codes for the highly antigenic VP8 protein on the surface of the virus was inserted into an E.Coli to make a genetically modified E,coli. As E.coli grow easily this is a good way of making the VP8 protein that is the base of the vaccine).

 

 It makes no sense that LTU would stall the contract because they did not own that cell line. A cell line was simply one of the materials bought in to make the Rota vaccine To explain ----various scientific companies develop and maintain cell lines and make these available to researchers and scientists for a fee. The fee payable to the USA company, Biomeer ( which has a branch in Melbourne) which owns it, was included in the cost of vaccine manufacture in the initial contract. The same amount of money is being paid to them but instead of a lump sum ( as in the first contract) it is now being paid as a royalty stream over time . LTU never owned this cell line. It was just one of the materials bought in to make the vaccine. It is common to pay royalties for technology like a cell line. It is a bit like a patent – if you want to use a cell line, in this case a strain of E. coli, you need to pay the owner of the cell line to use it. LTU owned the method (the technology or  IP) to make the vaccine using this cell line. LTU would not halt the contract because they did not own one of the materials used to make the vaccine such as a cell line. LTU owns the method (the technology or IP) to make the vaccine using this cell line. Sale of the IP was never part of the contract.

 

Also LTU did not call a halt to the contract process. Why would they? They wanted Stephen Eggleton (chairman at the time ) to sign and the Board to pay them. I was in all of the face to face meetings where the contract terms were agreed upon. The repeated wish of LTU was for the Board to sign the contract and pay them. One simply has to ask oneself- why would anyone, including LTU. draw up a contract that they did not want the other party to sign. It just makes no sense.

 

 What this self- congratulatory but totally incorrect and illogical email is suggesting is that LTU drew up a contract but then did not want anyone to sign it because the university did not own one of the materials used. I drew all of this to the attention of the Board member in question but he refused to accept it. He seemed to be trying to justify to various other Board members why the Board had not signed the contract.

 

Conclusion.

It has given me no pleasure to write this and I am sure that there will be people who will be openly critical of me and what I have written. In particular I expect some Board members to defend their position. I suspect however that some would make different decisions if they could have the time again and in their heart of hearts would make different decisions away from the flurry of activity that accompanied some of those decisions. I have endeavoured to simply present the situation as I understand it. I feel, as the only person involved with the whole process right from the start that this has enabled me to perhaps comment on matters that others could not. The whole Rota affair has presented and continues to present an extremely challenging task for all of us.  I guess however that the scientist in me insisted on presenting the facts and I felt obligated to let the fanciers of Australia know the full story.

 

 

13th June 2018

The following paper was presented by Dr Colin Walker at the International Veterinary Conference on Pigeon Pathology in Krakow , Poland on the 7th -8th June 2018.  The paper essentially covers what is known about Rota virus and the development of the vaccine up to the completion of the vaccine trials in July 2017, at which stage the manufacture and release of the vaccine became the national Boards responsibility .It is worth noting that further papers were presented on Rota virus in Europe, in particular by Dr Dennis Rubbenstroth of Freiberg University in Germany. He has profiled all known Rota virus isolates in Europe as well as examining historical samples. He has not found the Australian Type A Rota virus G18P but has however found another G18P Rota virus that has 2 of the 8 surface proteins the same . It causes a milder disease than "our" Rota with transient diarrhoea and low mortality but does cause a necrotising hepatitis. To date, severe Rota virus disease remains an Australian problem.

IVC Rota Virus Paper

 

Update  24 th April

My last Update created quite a bit of correspondence. Most of this centred on fanciers wanting to know just when birds will become immune after vaccination. With the start of racing rapidly approaching and vaccine availability uncertain, fanciers have some difficult decisions to make. How long it takes the birds to become immune after vaccination will affect  the decision that many fanciers make.  Do they wait for the vaccine, investigate other methods of making the birds immune or do nothing. Making the correct decision relies on being given the correct information.

 

With timing now being critical I have gone back through my notes to get the exact dates that things were done in the vaccine trial. The 6 trial vaccines were all given on the 1/5/17. Blood was drawn for the first time on the 17/5/17, 16 days later and showed low levels of immunity that were unlikely to protect the birds.  A second batch of the 6 trial vaccines was prepared and this was given on the 30/5/17 , 29 days after the first vaccination. Dr Travis Beddoe suggested drawing blood for the second time 4 weeks after this second vaccination. This was duly done on the 3/7/17, 63 days after the first vaccination. It was pleasing, and with some relief that levels of immunity likely to be protective were identified. Counting the days this means that the first bleed was at just over 2 weeks while the second bleed was actually at 9 weeks. This means that my previous advice must change. We can no longer say that  vaccinated birds are likely to be immune by 8 weeks. This figure has to be revised to 9 weeks.

 

So what do we know? We know that the vaccine we have does stimulate the development of protective immunity. We know that this immunity is formed between 16 days and 63 days. What we don’t know is when protective levels of immunity form between these times. Frustratingly we don’t have any other vaccines either to give us a guide. There is no other Rota vaccine ( be it killed, live modified or sub unit ) for any avian species anywhere in the world. What we are doing is all new.  The only Rota vaccine results refer to people , cattle and other mammals. Is it reasonable to think that the way mammals react to a vaccine prepared for a different Rota virus can be compared to the results in birds to this vaccine – I don’t really think so. Birds behave quite differently to many pharmaceuticals. For example procaine penicillin, local anaesthetic  and cortisol, all commonly used drugs in dogs and cats can kill pigeons with a single dose. Conversely the dose of moxidectin, a common wormer, used in pigeons would be fatal to many mammals.

 

All we can say is that, if fanciers wish to protect their birds through vaccination, then based on the available results, that it may take up to 9 weeks for the birds to be protected. This is an unfortunately long time but hopefully this information helps fanciers decide what to do with their birds. What each fanciers decides to do is entirely his choice.

 

So why weren’t the birds bled more often during the vaccine trial so that the time the birds develop immunity could be more accurately pinpointed? There were a lot of unknowns at the start of the trial.  All we started with in February 2017 was a theory. We knew that if we were successful this would be the world’s first bird Rota virus vaccine. We were in new territory but by the beginning of July a vaccine that had been shown to be protective had been produced. This work was done against the backdrop of a rapidly spreading disease and the desire of many fanciers to race . The research program was developed by the scientists at LTU ( Latrobe University ) and designed to be efficient and expedient to produce a vaccine as quickly as possible. It was also done within the budget quoted for in the contract provided by them for this work.  This budget allowed for the development of 6 trial vaccines and vaccine trials to see if these vaccines actually worked. Doing a bleed takes effort, time and money. It was natural for LTU to operate within their quoted price for this work. Drawing blood for the second time 4 weeks after the booster was given was quite reasonable. As is often the case with emergency vaccines information gaps would need to filled in later.

 

We still have much to learn and much more research to do. Hopefully as time and money becomes available more bleeds will be done so that we can develop a similar understanding of this disease to that which we have for PMV (after the testing that was done in 2012.) It should also be remembered that although the vaccine that Treidlia Biovet is making  will be similar, it will not be identical and may behave in a slightly different way. Apart from finding out when birds become immune we also need to learn , amongst other things, when it is best to give boosters or indeed if boosters are even necessary.

 

The ANRPB  latest press release on the 16th April states that the vaccine is fully effective 5 weeks after vaccination. I have advised the Board that this is not consistent with our current knowledge. I have in turn been advised by the Board that their press release will not be changed.

 

I would like to compliment Dr Mark White at Treidlia Biovet for his work on the vaccine. Vaccines are not easy. One should remember that there are still no vaccines for many  of the common human diseases like TB. Despite the challenge at hand he has remained focused on making a vaccine available as quickly as possible.

 

Update   18th April

Warning to fanciers

Incorrect veterinary information on the latest ANRPB release.

Fanciers need to be aware  that it can take up to 2 months for pigeons to develop protective immunity after vaccination against Rota vaccine. This is at odds with the 5 weeks reported by in the latest ANRPB release 2 days ago on the 16th April.

 

Yesterday I sent the self-explanatory email below to Greg Kakoschke

Hi Greg,

There are some inaccuracies in your latest release that may have some significant ramifications. When we did the vaccine trial and drew blood at 4 weeks post initial inoculation we demonstrated  a level of immunity that was unlikely to be protective. After boostering and redrawing blood 8 weeks after the initial inoculation  it was found that immunity levels likely to be protective were present. All we know therefore is that sometime between 4 and 8 weeks that a protective immunity develops. It is therefore not possible to say that the vaccine is maximally effective  1 -2 weeks after the second inoculation or even, in fact ,if the birds are immune at this time . Similarly it is not possible to say that it is safe to mix birds  in races and shows  5 weeks after the initial vaccination .

It is important to remember that we actually don’t know what level of immunity is required for protection. The virus neutralisation tests that would demonstrate this were part 2 of phase 3 of the initial contract. When Stephen Eggleton did not sign the contract and pay, LTU stopped work and these tests were never done. All we know is that the level of immunity ( as indicated by Travis’s Elisa IgY estimations) were higher in vaccinated birds at 8 weeks ( 4 weeks after the second shot ) than in recovered naturally infected birds 5 weeks after recovery and by clinical observation it appeared that recovered birds were refractory to reinfection for 10 months or more .It therefore seemed reasonable that vaccinated birds would also be immune. There were however small numbers of birds in the trials and big variation in individual bird results.

To be safe, it would be better to say on your PR  that immunity rises ( we don’t know when it peaks )after the second vaccination and is likely to be protective by 8 weeks after the first vaccination. This means fanciers will need to vaccinate 8 ( not 5) weeks before racing or showing. Mixing earlier than this may lead to birds becoming unwell and fanciers thinking that the vaccine does not work.

I have cced Mark White into this email

Greg replied that I may well be right but did not indicate that he would change the release saying that it had been proofed by Mark White.

The results of the vaccine trial have been in the public domain since the trial was completed last September. Just why Greg would not make the correction and supply fanciers with accurate information is inexplicable.

 

26st January 2018.

When will the Rota vaccine be available?

The question everyone is asking is “When will the Rota vaccine be available?” Everything is explained below but it is principally Dr Mark White of Treidlia Biovet (who is making the vaccine ) who can answer this question most accurately. In correspondence with Mark dated the 24th January he advised that once the vaccine contracts have been signed and the final manufacturing details have been released by Latrobe University to him it will then take 3 to 4 months to have a vaccine available, if everything goes smoothly. He, however, goes on to explain that things may not run smoothly and there is the potential for delays. This means that although the exact time that a  vaccine will be available is unclear, it will be at least 3 to 4 months from now. This means that the absolute earliest a Rota vaccine will be available is May or June and it certainly has the potential to be later. Once the vaccine is available the birds will then need to be vaccinated and develop an immunity. A time line can be found at the end of this Update

My personal involvement with vaccine availability finished with the completion of the ( successful ) vaccination trials at the end of August. The matter was then in the hands of the Australian National Racing Pigeon Board (ANRPB) , Latrobe University ( LTU) and  more recently a vaccine manufacturing company, Treidlia Biovet (owned and run by Dr Mark White). In early September we were on the cusp of going to commercial production and were well on track to have a vaccine available by late 2017 or at the latest March/ April  2018. The urgent need for a vaccine was supported by the issuing of letters supporting the granting of an emergency permit by the APVMA by both the Victorian and NSW Chief Veterinary Officers.  Unfortunately it was in September that matters were derailed. How did this happen? How have we found ourselves in this situation? How has the opportunity of having a vaccine almost certainly available before racing this year apparently just disappeared?

 What has been happening since last September?

1/ In the 9 months from December 2016 until September 2017,  the cause of mass pigeon mortalities in Australia was diagnosed in Melbourne as a G18P Rota virus . The virus was sequenced, this sequence was compared for potential cross immunity with existing Reo and Rota vaccines both here and overseas, and it was realised that a new vaccine had to be made. LTU was engaged to do the research and development of this vaccine.  The vaccine was made and vaccine trials were successfully completed . A contract was  prepared  by LTU to the ANRPB for this work. The contract was ready for signing mid- September. It had been a busy 9 months. Once the contract was signed and payment made, the final manufacturing details would be released by LTU to Treidlia who would then make the vaccine commercially.  

 

2/In the initial contract ready for signing in September with LTU for doing the research and development work for the vaccine, the invoice total was for $174K to be made as a single payment.  $7K was deducted from this amount because I had done the pigeon management(ie cared for the birds, drawn blood, vaccinated the birds etc ) for the vaccine trial rather than LTU staff .  This meant the amount payable was $167K. I mistakenly developed the understanding during the meetings at LTU that the Board would need to fund 1/3rd of this. The rest would be met by a linkage grant that we were “almost certain to get”. Grant Paterson organised the collection of approx. $ 60,000 in donated funds from Australian pigeon fanciers. At the completion of the vaccine trial , Caroline Bathje , a commercialisation officer at LTU advised that the initial work covered by the contract was actually “a proof of concept” and it was only subsequent research that would be eligible for consideration for a grant.

 

3/  I explained to Caroline that the ANRPB only had $60,000 currently available.  She asked if it would help us if the payments for $167K could be made over 3 years in 3 instalments. I thought it was a good suggestion of Caroline’s and generous of LTU. We would pay the same amount (i.e. $167K) but have longer to pay and it would make it easier for us to establish an ongoing relationship with LTU ( ie between industry and research ) for an ARC  linkage grant. Linkage grants are available to “link” research and industry where the direct results of research can be used to meet an industry’s needs. If successful, a grant from the Commonwealth government will match $2 for every $1 supplied by industry.

 

4/ The $60K collected by donation would be used to make the first payment. An income stream in the form of a levy  placed on vaccine sales would be generated to accrue money for the second and third payments. If insufficient money was available then  I would act as guarantor for these two annual payments  and  therefore be responsible for covering any shortfall. Once the 3 payments had been met,  money  from the levy could be made available for a linkage grant if our application was successful for further Rota research and also be available if ever there was another national issue that required funding. The annual payments would  demonstrate an ongoing relationship between LTU and the pigeon industry, which would assist in getting  a linkage grant for future Rota research.

 

5/ The initial contract was made out between LTU and the ANRPB. Because the Board would be paying for the research and development of the vaccine, it was anticipated that it would essentially own the vaccine. LTU, would own the technology used to make the vaccine ( ie the intellectual property or IP ). As mentioned above, once the contract had been signed and the first payment made, LTU would release the final manufacturing details to the Board. These would be passed to Mark White at Treidlia who would then commence commercial production of the vaccine on behalf of the Board.

 

6/ Finalising details of the contract became involved and ran on into August and threatened to stall the development of the vaccine . Dr Caroline Bathje was our contact within the commercialisation department at LTU and had been helping with contract negotiations since LTU was first approached to do the work by myself.  At this time I became frustrated  and felt that all of our expeditious work to get the vaccine project through to the commercial stage so quickly was being wasted as the weeks on contract negotiations slipped away. I spoke to Caroline Bathje and offered to pay , as an interim measure, the whole invoice for the vaccine. I saw this as a lifeline to the pigeon industry and did not want to see the process delayed through concern over money. The hope was that, with LTU being paid, they would then release the final manufacturing details to Mark so that he could commence vaccine production. I would be repaid later when the vaccine was available. Frustratingly, she explained that this was not possible.

 

7/Contract negotiations continued.  Stephen  Eggleton ( ANRPB chair ) would not sign the contract on behalf of the Board. This was on advice from his solicitor. Apparently there were concerns regarding the legality of the Board entering into the agreement as well as possible financial exposure. I have asked Stephen to elaborate on this.

 

8/  I then agreed to sign the contract on behalf of the Board to stop the impasse. The contract would be entered into with my company.  My company would make no money from this contract but, by signing, any delays associated with further contract negotiations would be avoided. The $60K would be transferred to my company and then immediately on to LTU to make the first payment. Other aspects of the contract would remain unaltered.

 

9/ I spoke to Caroline Bathje several times through September as contract negotiations continued. On Friday, 22 September 2017 I explained to her that I was again frustrated with delays over various matters and  advised her  that I was happy to sign the contract as proposed by LTU “as is”. In my mind there was no point in further delaying progress over matters that were comparatively quite small. On the following Monday, 25 September, Caroline emailed me and stated that the contract was being finalised. We spoke that afternoon and she was hopeful that the contract would be available for signing the next day. She stated that she was pleased that we had reached an agreement that everyone was happy with.  She also advised that I would not need to come to LTU to sign but that it could be done electronically.  So after much discussion, we had a contract that Dr Caroline Bathje (Latrobe commercialisation department), the ANRPB  and I were happy with on 25 September 2017.

 

10/ The contract was not ready the next day but after 3 days we were told that Caroline had been advised by her supervisor , Dr Dan Grant, that LTU’s preference was to sign with  the ANRPB being a national body and not a private company. Over the coming 4 weeks,  Stephen Eggleton repeatedly advised Dan Grant that he, on behalf of the Board did not want to sign the contract , that I was their endorsed representative and that they wanted me to sign on their behalf.

 

In an email   on 4 October, Stephen Eggleton  wrote,

  

“I had a good chat with Caroline an hour or so ago.

She is now going back to her Manager, confirming the position of the ANRPB, confirming the agreement be in the name of your entity, and to proceed (with signature) as an immediate priority.

I'm heading to the bank tomorrow to get the letter of authority arranged from myside so we can raise the Bank cheque once we have a green light.”

 

In a further email on 10 October, Stephen wrote

“ Dear Caroline,

We are quite perplexed over this matter. As I shared with you last week, the ANRPB Inc. is in its infancy. Recently formed with a welfare centric mandate – created specifically to develop a National Code of Practice as requested by Animal Health Australia. The ANRPB Inc has no assets, has no income stream and the Board is not in a position to accept liabilities into the future (as is required under the current contract, ~$90k).

 

To provide a solution – Dr Colin Walker – as a leading pigeon industry figure and industry representative has kindly stepped in to undertake the contract. The rota vaccine is urgently required. The science is done. The CVO’s are awaiting, the pigeon industry is waiting, the production house is poised, Dr Walker is ready to sign the contract, ANRPB is ready to pay the first payment (from donations from fanciers and federations) – so it’s LaTrobe now in my opinion that needs to respond here quickly. There is a duty of care on all of us now to deliver this vaccine. Many thousands of racing and fancy pigeons are at risk with the new breeding season upon us. “

 

Stephen was doing all he could to get the contract signed. Dan Grant repeatedly stated that it was the University’s preference to sign with a national Board rather than a private company. In his one phone call to me he explained how it would be “more prestigious”  for LTU to sign with a national board rather than a private company

  

11/  On 14 October, Stephen Eggleton sent out an email . He had been in negotiations with Dan Grant. He explained that the current contract was now “null and void” and that Dan Grant  had advised that “LTU was happy to explore licensing the IP to  Tredlia for a fee ($60,000 excl GST) and defined royalty steam to be negotiated.” The ANRPB would lend the donated $60,000 to Treidlia. Despite Stephen’s perseverance Dan insisted that LTU would only sign with ANRPB or failing that with Treidlia . Acting in good faith and in order to escape an apparent bottleneck in negotiations and again to get vaccine availability back on track, Stephen agreed. A new contract would be drawn up

 

12/At the next bi monthly Board meeting, the Board was asked to vote about the initial and the new alternative second contract. There seems to be some uncertainty between some Board members about this issue. One Board member I spoke to said that the second contract was presented as a “done deal” and Board members were asked to vote whether or not they supported Stephen Eggleton’s  and Greg Kakoschke’s ( vice chair ) decision. Another Board member however told me that that was not the case and members were asked to vote for one or other of the contracts. Either way the Board voted in support of the second contract and the next day Dan Grant was informed that there had been unanimous support within the Board for Stephen’s decision and the second contract.

 

13/ Stephen had always stated that he was prepared to act as Chaiman of the ANRPB for 2 years. This 2 years was now up and at the next Board meeting, Stephen Eggleton stood down. Greg Kakoschke was elected as Chairman.

 

14/ What no one could have predicted, including Stephen, was how long it would take to negotiate the new contract. In effect we had “gone back to square one”. Stephen and Greg  repeatedly contacted LTU as the weeks slipped by and were told by Dr Craig Patch (also an employee within the commercialization department) and Dan Grant that Rota was top priority. Mark White did not receive the draft of the new contract until 20 November. I personally wondered how long low priority matters would take. The contract outlined an initial payment of $66,000 plus 50% of all profits. A more usual figure in such contracts is 5%. Mark made some recommendations and returned the contract to LTU promptly.

 

15/ The new contract was not returned to Mark until 12 January 2018. Four months had been lost from September to January and with this 4 months lost (so far), the opportunity of having the vaccine available by early 2018 was gone. I will leave fanciers to imagine how I felt after all our hard work up until September. The returned contract was reviewed by Mark. LTU had agreed to most of Mark’s recommendation.

 

16/  As of the 26th January, contract negotiations between Dr Mark White (Treidlia Biovet Pty Ltd) and Latrobe University (LTU) have been completed and it is envisaged that contracts will soon be signed by both parties. Before this can occur the side agreement between the ANRPB and Treidlia must be organised. Once the contracts have been signed and payment made, LTU will release the  last of its manufacturing details to Mark . It remains unclear , however, whether LTU has completed the necessary work on the research and development of the manufacturing details required by Mark to commence commercial manufacture. Quite reasonably, It may be that LTU did not want to spend more money and resources on Rota while the contract negotiations were underway and no payment to them had been made. If this work has not proceeded, it may take some months to have these details available. Hopefully this work has been done and the information Mark requires is available and ready. Once Mark receives this information he can then begin the process of commercial manufacture. As advised at the start of this Update once he gets to this stage if everything goes smoothly the vaccine will be available in 3 to 4 months. During this time he will need to do his own research and development to make sure that the process works well in his hands. As, also mentioned above, there is the potential for problems and delays. My personal feeling ( and I hope that I am wrong ) is that we will be lucky, and Mark will have done an exceptional job, if the vaccine is available before the middle of the year.

 

17/ There are a number of ongoing contract issues. For example it remains unclear who will own the vaccine. Early on in this process, in May, on behalf of the ANRPB solicitor Charles Hider negotiated with LTU on behalf of the Board about the vaccine. These early discussions did not cover ownership of the vaccine itself but rather the ownership of the IP ( ie the technology used to make the vaccine) . Charles suggested that the Board should own part of the IP. Latrobe did not agree to Charles suggestions and insisted on owning(fully ) the IP. Just who owns the vaccine ( either the Board or Treidlia ) is still not clear. My personal feeling however Is that it should be the Board as they paid for the vaccine to be developed and organised ( through me ) its manufacture. Also the actual percentage of the royalty to be paid to the Board by Treidlia and also for how long have not been resolved. These matters are important because it will be this source of money that subsequently becomes available for Rota research and other potential national pigeon issues and as such has the potential to affect pigeon racing in Australia for certainly years and maybe decades. These matters need to be resolved before the side agreement between the Board and Treidlia can be signed. And of course the agreement in turn between Treidlia and LTU cannot be signed until this side agreement is signed. The next Board meeting is on the 6th Feb. The Board will have much to discuss. No doubt all Board members will have their input.

 

And so in summary the loss of 4 months  ( and with it the time we had “up our sleave’ to have a vaccine available before racing this year) centres around the logical reluctance of Stephen Eggleton to sign the first contract based on legal advice  from his solicitor and then when I offered to sign on behalf of the Board, Dr Dan Grant on behalf of LTU not signing with me ( for reasons outlined below ).

 

It has been very hard to sit still for 4 months and watch the likely hood of having  a vaccine available for this year’s racing just evaporate. At one point I contacted another university to see if they could do the work for us that LTU had done and, when we found they could, considered  just simply walking away from LTU, such was our frustration.  I personally don’t think that I could have done much more. I advanced the whole thing from diagnosis to  completion of the vaccine trial and preparation of the first contract,  then offered to pay for the whole thing and, when this was declined, was then happy to sign the completed contract and accept any risks associated with this on behalf of the ANRPB.

 

Who is Dan Grant?

Dan Grant is a pro-vice chancellor at La Latrobe University. The university’s website provides the following information. He started work there in March 2016. Latrobe has 7 pro vice chancellors and each has his/her particular area of expertise and involvement. Being a pro vice chancellor  is a bit like being the head of a department in a commercial business. Dan is the pro vice chancellor for industry engagement. His role is to engage and develop partnerships with industry. He has lectured at conferences on how to establish and maintain successful  partnerships and the importance to institutions like universities on aligning with the right industry partner. He also advises on what is the best approach for universities to take when proposing a partnership and how  university research departments can better understand the needs of industry.

 

With this in mind, it gives an insight into why Dan would prefer to enter into a contract with a national board and, with this not being possible, later agreed to sign with Treidlia. In Dan’s words, signing with a national board would appear more “prestigious”. Treidlia is an established vaccine manufacturing company that may offer further business opportunities. Being a retired veterinary clinician, I had little to offer LTU as a long-term partner and quite simply was not good enough (in Dan’s eyes).

 

In my opinion, however, when one is dealing with a highly infectious disease with a high mortality rate that is causing a painful death in a vertebrate animal at a national level and has already killed tens of thousands of birds in the last 10 months and is severely compromising the industry involved with that animal, I think other things need to be considered than whether or not the organisation that is signing the contract is the best one for the university’s interests. Anything that would delay the release of a vaccine that would solve this problem should be avoided. Obviously Dan cannot be expected to understand the pigeon industry but it was explained to him and there is no doubt that he understood the effect of his decision to not sign and insist on re- negotiation for a second contract.

 

The end result of what, I think, was a rather blinkered decision by Dan is that the industry that engaged Latrobe University has, in fact, been damaged.

 

My personal opinion is that the first contract was better. It clearly set out the amount that we had to pay, we were already in the process of applying for a linkage grant, and I feel that we could more easily budget and have money available for funding. However, by far the main advantage of the first contract was that it was done and ready for signing.

 

These delays will lead to the plethora of issues as set out below. Obviously Dan could not be expected to have a good understanding of the pigeon industry but as it is his job to develop and maintain relationships with industry he should be expected to have some rudimentary understanding. Unfortunately his decision not to proceed with signing the existing contract in early September just so a partner that he regarded as more suitable would sign has been very frustrating and disappointing for everyone directly involved and also the wider pigeon community. To my mind, it demonstrates  a failure to understand the industry’s needs and the nature of the situation and  has considerably damaged the industry that actually engaged LTU.

 

Any attempt by Latrobe to garner prestige by signing the contract with a national board has been countered by the loss of its reputation within the pigeon community. Pigeon fanciers were impressed by the rapid diagnosis and progress with  vaccine development by Latrobe researchers. However any good will has long since evaporated after dealing with the commercialisation department.

 

Mark White and I have discussed the ongoing research into Rota virus and feel that some other institution apart from LTU may now be better suited to do this work for us.

 

The impact of Dan’s decision and the resultant delays mean that-

1/More pigeons will die

2/ More birds will be permanently damaged and have their subsequent race competitiveness compromised

3/ It is now looking less likely that the vaccine will be available before racing this year  with all the issues that that entails

4/ No ANPA National show again this year?

5/People’s income compromised  -   Loss of income for squab producers as abattoirs will not process birds from lofts that have previously had Rota

  •  Pigeon sales by studs compromised

6/ Club incomes compromised  - ability to have squeaker sales  and one-loft races compromised

7/ The same issues that saw the Victoria Cup, Australia richest race with first prize of $100,000 abandoned last year may apply again

8/ Exporting birds- although fanciers have been asked not to export birds, there is nothing legally in place to stop them. Even though vaccinated birds may have the potential to still carry the virus, unvaccinated birds that are exported are more likely to be carrying the virus and therefore spread Rota to the world!!

9/ Commercially and genetically valuable birds imported into Australia will not be able to be protected from Rota virus

10/ Declining membership as members cannot race or show their birds

 11/ The altered royalty arrangements may result in the vaccine being more expensive for fanciers.

 

Fanciers’ reactions to being told that it is a possibility that a vaccine will not be available before racing have ranged from being speechless to surprise and disappointment through to frustration, annoyance right through to anger.

 

During the negotiations,  some other issues have come up .

 

A/ Apparently the Board is registered with NSW Fair Trading as a “Not for Profit” organisation and there were concerns that the proposed contract would contravene NSW Fair Trading Laws and Regulations for Not for Profit Organisations. David Walker ( ANRPB secy ) has made some enquiries  and the repayment of the $60,000 and ongoing royalties by Treidlia to the ANRPB does not contravene any requirement here.

However, the ANRPB being a “Not for profit “  makes no sense to me. The ANRPB will need ongoing cash for research  and other initiatives. This, however , is a discussion for another day.

 

 B/ Frustratingly it may be some time before any research can be done under the new contract. Research money has to become available primarily from royalties on vaccine sales. With no vaccine there can be no sales.  Mark White  and I have developed a list of our colleagues who run diagnostic and vaccine companies. Although they may not be able to donate money they may be able to give time and facilities. I have asked Greg to look into this. Once a vaccine does become available the amount of money generated will depend on the amount of vaccine sold, the price of the vaccine and importantly the royalty rate on sales paid to the Board.  Once money does become available there will be a time delay in applying for and getting a linkage grant . And, of course, the research work will then have to be done. We still don’t know basic things like, how long does passive immunity passed from parents to babies last, and when should those babies be vaccinated, how long does immunity last after vaccination, is there really a low pathogenic strain or is it all the same virus that is modified by local loft factors such as geographical location, temperature and humidity, loft genetics and loft health, why does the virus cause no disease in some birds and stay in the bowel and yet in others it penetrates the bowel wall and kills them? We don’t want theories here but rather facts supported by scientific results produced by evidence based research.

 

Through the whole of this, Dr Mark White has shown himself to be professional, reasoned and informed. I would like to thank him for his advice and guidance.

 

So without a vaccine what can we expect?

There is no reason to expect that our experience this year on the east coast will be any different from what was experienced last year on the west coast. As soon as young pigeons that have not developed their own immunity  and old birds whose immunity has waned start mixing with birds from other lofts, they will be exposed to the virus. Presumably the source will be long-term carriers that are still shedding the virus. In the west last year, approximately 40 % of flyers caught the disease in the first few weeks of racing, causing considerable disruption to the racing season.

Most of us have bred from recovered Rota virus birds this year. It is likely that some immunity from these stock birds will pass to the babies. However, typically, this passively acquired immunity tends to be very transient. We don’t know exactly how long it lasts with Rota but, as an example, with PMV we know passive immunity lasts about 6 weeks. As the youngsters’ passive immunity fades, they will become more and more vulnerable to infection. The answer, of course, was going to be to then vaccinate them. With this now not being a certainty, the only other (unpalatable) option is going to be for fanciers to again expose their birds to a low pathogenic strain of Rota when the birds are otherwise well  (so they can mount a good immune response) and the temperature and humidity are low (which seems to minimise the severity of Rota induced disease).This is of course is subject to local and state laws and regulations.

 

Approximate Time Line

Just to clarify the time line

1/ Mark advises vaccine available 3-4 months after   1/ the contracts are signed  - first the contract between ANRPB and Mark has to be signed , then the contract between Mark and LTU has to be signed, then the money has to be paid and 2/  LTU releases the final manufacturing details – we don’t even know if all this has been done . Let’s say optimistically that all this takes just 4 weeks then we have 1 month plus 3 – 4 months

 

In an email dated the 24th January, Dr Mark White explains

“Hi Colin. When we get the materials we would have to do our own R&D to make sure it’s all working smoothly in our hands. Hard to say how long that will take. Could be smooth, might not be. If smooth could have vaccine in 3-4 months.”

 

2/ In the vaccine trial we vaccinated the birds , waited a month and vaccinated again, waited another month  and drew blood which showed the birds were immune. We had drawn blood about 4 weeks earlier which showed they were not yet immune. So this means it will take 2 months after the first vaccination ( and also only after a second vaccination )before we can , with any certainty, say the birds are immune and therefore can safely mix with birds in race units from other lofts

 

This means it will be 3-4 months plus 1 month plus 2 months   = 6-7 months before birds are immune if everything goes well. This is July or August. The VHA starts racing in June

 

Locally speaking

On a more local level 2 fanciers within 2 km of my loft have had Rota in their lofts in the last 2 weeks. One lost 60 of 156 birds.  The other has had about half of his 80 stock birds die and deaths have just started in the racing loft. This fancier was 4th in his fed averages the last year he raced. Neither used “Poovac” last year.


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