10 Ugandan scientists who developed anti-tick vaccine

What you need to know:

  • ECF is one of the deadly tick-borne diseases which is a huge economic threat to farmers with herds of exotic breeds,  cross-breeds and increasingly on local breeds raised in a tick-free environment.

A team of scientists from Makerere University who developed the anti-tick vaccine called ticvac-u  have been  unveiled.

Dr Margaret Saimo-Kahwa, the lead developer of the vaccine,  on Tuesday said the development started in 2005 with a seed grant from the Dutch Research Council,  but the government of Uganda through the Presidential Initiative on Science and Technology took interest and continued providing financial support to date.

The completed trial of the vaccine indicates that the overall efficacy of the serum in stopping tick infestation is 86 per cent for brown ear tick that transmits East Coast Fever (ECF).

ECF is one of the deadly tick-borne diseases which is a huge economic threat to farmers with herds of exotic breeds,  cross-breeds and increasingly on local breeds raised in a tick-free environment.

Farmers are losing cattle due to tick-borne diseases, which account for between 30 and 70 per cent of cattle mortality in the country, thus threatening the national herd estimated at 15 million, according to Dr Saimo-Kahwa.

The National Drug Authority (NDA) monitoring reports for effectiveness of drugs recently indicated that common tick species in Uganda have developed resistance to acaricides (substance  for spraying ticks).

Dr Saimo-Kahwa said: “Tick resistance to acaricides is very serious in the country, especially where they have used the current acaricides intensively without changing. For a number of farmers,  the drugs are no longer working and there is nothing they can use.”

She said they got the knowledge about the vaccine from their counterparts in Cuba where it has been used for more than 30 years to treat tick infestation.

Tick vaccine development
The experts developed the vaccine from proteins found in ticks that attack the animals.

“You use a system in the laboratory to multiply the protein artificially, the same way some scientists can produce meat in the laboratory,” she said.
The protein is then purified using special equipment and tested to ensure purity before attempting to use it. She said the vaccine has no negative effects on the meat, its quality and safety to consumers.

Planned commercial manufacturing of the vaccine is expected to start this year at a Kampala-based veterinary drugs manufacturing facility called Alfasan Ltd.
While signing the memorandum of understanding with Alfasan Ltd last month at Makerere University, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, the university vice-chancellor, said the anti-tick vaccine is one of the most important projects the institution innovated.

“If this vaccine can reduce the burden of tick-borne diseases, we would have made a huge contribution to  the country,”  Prof  Nawangwe said.
Once successful, the anti-tick vaccine will be sold at around Shs5,000 per dose, according to the developers.  This is much lower than what other manufacturers charge for similar tick-control products.  

The team
1. Dr Margaret Saimo-Kahwa
Dr Saimo-Kahwa is the lead developer of the anti-tick vaccine, a senior lecturer and researcher at Makerere University. She studied Veterinary Medicine at the university and proceeded to do a Master in Applied Immunology at Brunel University in the United Kingdom. She later did her PhD from Makerere University. Dr Saimo-Kahwa started developing the vaccine in 2005 after getting funding from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and is on the path of commercialising the vaccine. She worked at the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Research Centre in Entebbe from 1982 to 1994 before becoming a lecturer at Makerere University in 1995, where she progressed to a honorary level in 2020.

2. Dr Charles Ssekitto
     Dr Ssekitto is a research scientist with experience in tick ecology, rearing and identification. He previously worked at LIRI in Tororo District. He holds a Master in Veterinary Entomology from Makerere University.  
       From 2017 up to date, Dr Ssekitto has been working with the anti-tick vaccine project as an acarologist  in charge of breeding and rearing of ticks used for experimentation.
      The rearing is happening at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Bio-security (COVAB) . He is also in charge of attaching and monitoring the ticks that are placed on animals. He collects, counts and weighs them.

3. Dr Kokas Ikwap
Dr Ikwap has worked on tick-borne diseases, developing diagnostics and vaccine since 1997. He has done research on projects with Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. The expert, who is also in charge of the immunisation of the animals used in the experiments, has worked with the anti-tick vaccine since 2012. He develops the protocols used in vaccine manufacturing.

4. Mr Geofrey Sentamu
Mr Sentamu has been a technologist on the anti-tick vaccine project  since 2017. He holds a Bachelor of Biomedical Laboratory Technology (BBLT) from Makerere University.      
He is involved in the expression of the proteins in the lab, purification and analysis of the blood samples.

5. Dr William Olaho Mukhani
Dr Olaho is widely experienced in research and development and is a veterinary surgeon. He is a consultant on anti-tick vaccine development. He served as director of research at Livestock Health Research Institute in Tororo from 1996 to 2001 before becoming the director of animal resources at the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries where he worked until 2010. Dr Olaho also worked with African Union as a consultant on transboundary diseases from 2010 to 2017. Dr Olaho obtained a Bachelor in Veterinary Medicine at Makerere University in 1974. He later enrolled for a Master degree and PhD in Veterinary Pathology and Microbiology.

6. Dr Sylvester Ochwo
Dr Ochwo has been a researcher at COVAB for the last 10 years. He joined the project in 2017 and is involved in the production, examination of the proteins in the laboratory and any improvement that may be necessary. Dr Ochwo attained his PhD in Veterinary Epidemiology from Makerere University and he holds a Master degree and a Bachelor in Veterinary Medicine from the same Universit

7. Dr Herbert Mukiibi
An assistant lecturer at the Department of Veterinary pharmacy of COVAB. He holds a Bachelor in Veterinary Medicine from Makerere University and a Master from North Dakota State University of the United States of America. He is experienced in veterinary research and epidemiology.

8. Ms Sarah Namubiru
Ms Namubiru is a new recruit and holds BBLT from Makerere University. She is involved in the analysis of the proteins  and the  serum samples from the experimented animals.

9. Mr Peregrine Sebulime
Mr Sebulime is a research scientist, working at COVAB in the wildlife department. The holder of a Master in Biological Sciences, joined the anti-tick vaccine project in 2017. He is involved in the collection of samples from animals and ticks.

10. Dr Zachary Nsadha
Dr Nsadha is a lecturer at COVAB who joined the project in 2019. He is in charge of the health of the animals. He will be developing the pastures and the infrastructure of  Ngoma Farm in Nakaseke District where major field test will take place.