After acquiring worldwide rights to the promising E. coli O157:H7 vaccine, Pfizer Animal Health is putting its considerable marketing clout behind the only product known for reducing E. coli O157 shedding and prevalence at the source, inside the cattle.

Madison, NJ-based Pfizer Animal Health acquired global rights for the vaccine in 2010 from Epitopix LLC and early 2011 finds its pushing the product as “an exciting new opportunity for the beef industry,” according to Drovers news source.

Already the subject of large-scale trials by beef giant Cargill, the vaccine is now being marketed and distributed by Pfizer.  The product is currently available under conditional license, restricted to use only by veterinarians.

“The beef industry has made significant strides in reducing foodborne pathogens, such as E. coli O157, but it continues to be a significant concern among consumers,” said Dale Grotelueschen, managing veterinarian for Pfizer Animal Health Veterinary Operations.  E. coli O157 doesn’t make cattle sick but they are carriers, so the vaccine is seen as a way to help address E. coli O157 at the source, in the animals themselves.

The patented technology in the conditionally licensed E. Coli Bacterial Extract vaccine uses the iron-gathering mechanism common to all E. coli strains to control the prevalence of the bacteria in vaccinated cattle by harnessing the animals’  immune system, Dr. Grotelueschen explained.

Some estimates suggest that the beef industry spends more than $350 million annually on improving beef safety, with much of that effort going toward trying to prevent E. coli.  The pathogen is an economically devastating problem to the greater food industry as well, resulting in billions of dollars in lost demand and costs associated with recalls.

Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 70,000 people are infected with E. coli O157 each year, with many more cases of illness going unreported.

Data from a recently published study indicated that vaccination at the feedlot reduced E. coli O157 contamination among cattle by 85 percent.  Of those cattle still positive for E. coli O157, there was a 98 percent reduction in total remaining pathogen load.

Because the vaccine reduces the number of animals with E. coli in their manure, if combined with basic safety practices such as sanitizing hides and carcasses after slaughter, it could go a long way to reduce the risk of E. coli contamination in the food supply.  But it remains to be seen whether producers will see the vaccine can be a viable option, because they may not see a direct economic benefit to the added expense of vaccinating their cattle.

E. Coli Bacterial Extract vaccine with SRP® technology continues to be manufactured by Epitopix LLC in Willmar, MN.