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Worthington lab develops unique swine vaccine

By Julie Buntjer

Worthington Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON -- There is a lot of excitement brewing at Newport Laboratories these days in Worthington.

The company that specializes in vaccines for the swine industry has recently received approval to mass market ParaSail, a vaccine that targets Haemophilus parasuis. The disease affects multiple organs in pigs, causes respiratory problems, joint issues and can lead to mortality.

ParaSail will be the first mass-produced vaccine by Newport Labs, which has long specialized in site- or herd-specific vaccines in the pork industry.

Newport Labs, under the umbrella of Prairie Holdings Group in Worthington, has spent more than five years on research and development of ParaSail, a modified live bacterial vaccine. It now has a patent pending, and labels have been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Newport's Chief Operating Officer Randy Simonson anticipates ParaSail will be on the market in about a month.

"It's a very unique, one-of-a-kind in the world, patent-pending vaccine developed right here in Worthington," said Simonson. "The disease that this vaccine will be used against affects pigs all over the world. There's no other vaccine like it."

What it means for the community is the potential for new jobs.

"This is good for the economy," Simonson said. "I anticipate as a company we'll be hiring people this year, in part because of this new vaccine, plus some other things we have (in development)."

Already, the company has invested in new equipment for manufacturing the vaccine at the company's facility on East Avenue in Worthington, and more will be purchased to increase production capacity.

A long process

The research behind ParaSail began in 2003 with Dr. Simone Oliveira as the initial team leader on the project.

"It required a lot of research and development work," said Simonson. "We had to establish the strain so that we could use a live organism that prevents the disease, and yet not cause disease."

Oliveira eventually went on to the University of Minnesota, where she is now a faculty member. Worthington native Jon Mahlberg has since been the lead on the project.

Others influential in the product's development were Russ Bey, director of research at Newport Labs and U of M professor; Mark Titus, director of regulatory affairs; manufacturing team members Deb Wieneke (production manager), Nate Mahlberg (quality control manager), and Brenda Wehking (quality assurance manager); Doug Stine, director of clinical research in the field; John Porth, research farm manager; Tracy Oleson in technology transfer; and Bryce Haack in quality control.

"This is a disease that has plagued the industry worldwide for years," Simonson said. "We hope this is the answer -- it's certainly a big step forward."

Anticipated demand

In meetings last weekend with veterinarians from across the country, Simonson said ParaSail is creating demand and excitement.

"A lot of people are waiting for it," he said. "We're waiting for labels right now, so actual shipments won't begin for about a month. We have a fairly good stock of inventory -- we're producing every day."

Simonson anticipates demand for the product to increase as more pressure is placed on reducing antibiotic use in livestock.

"If more pressure is put on antibiotic usage, these bacterial diseases will be on the rise and we need methods to be able to deal with them," he said. "Research in universities and industry has not been forthcoming with these particular diseases because they haven't been major problems. We believe they're going to be, so we're focusing on that."

As a result, ParaSail is the first of what is hoped to be a line of products developed by Newport Labs to treat specific diseases in swine herds.

"We have a platform of projects that we feel very comfortable with because they address what I call the neglected bacterial diseases," said Simonson. "These are diseases that, for the most part, have been handled very well with antibiotics and some management changes."

The research and development of those projects only enhance what Newport Labs has long done and will continue to do -- develop vaccines for site-specific herd health concerns.

"We will always be involved in the autogenous approach. Because we deal with diseases like flu, and flu is a moving target, we need to be able to be site or area specific," Simonson said. "At the same time, where the technology allows, we are developing vaccines that cross over multiple sites."

Once ParaSail is ready for shipment, pork producers will be able to purchase the vaccine through their veterinarians.