Colombia issues positive regulatory determination for PIC’s PRRS-resistant pig

It is the first country to do so
calendar icon 9 October 2023
clock icon 3 minute read

Genus plc, the parent company of PIC (Pig Improvement Company), announced recently that Colombia’s government issued a favourable regulatory determination for gene-edited pigs resistant to the Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) virus. This means Colombia will treat the PRRS-resistant pigs the same as conventionally bred pigs.

It is important to note this determination will not automatically trigger sales of PRRS-resistant pigs in Colombia. PIC is working closely and transparently with all stakeholders in the animal protein value chain to establish a timeline for commercialization.

“For more than 30 years, pork producers have struggled to protect their pigs from the devastating PRRS virus. PIC is working to make the PRRS-resistant pig and genetics available to producers across the globe to improve animal welfare and the sustainability of pork production,” said Matt Culbertson, chief operations officer at PIC. “Today’s announcement marks a critical milestone in the battle against PRRS and it moves PIC one step closer to commercializing the PRRS-resistant pig.”

The PRRS virus is a universal challenge affecting pork producers and production systems worldwide. It is estimated that PRRS costs the global pork industry approximately $2 billion each year. PIC is working to secure approval for the PRRS-resistant pig in the United States, Canada, China, Japan, Mexico, and Brazil along with other pork-producing countries. Each country has a unique regulatory system and biotechnology policies that will affect the approval process and timeline. PIC anticipates a series of regulatory decisions over the next few years including a decision from the United States Food and Drug Administration in the first half of 2024.

In addition to securing key approvals, other considerations will determine when PIC will initiate a phased global launch. As with any genetic improvement, it will take several years to multiply enough PRRS-resistant genetics to meet global demand.

Using gene editing to protect pigs from the PRRS virus

Gene editing is making headlines because of its successful human healthcare applications. The technology shows tremendous potential to help treat and prevent human diseases, including HIV, sickle cell anemia and a variety of cancers, according to the World Health Organization. Gene editing can be used to provide similar disease-resistance benefits to improve animal health.

PIC developed a solution to protect pigs from the PRRS virus, which causes animal suffering and prematurely kills millions of pigs per year. Using gene editing technology, PIC deleted a small portion of the pig’s DNA that encodes a protein that the virus uses to enter and infect the pigs’ cells. Without the binding site, the PRRS virus is unable to enter the cell, replicate and infect the pig.

Adopting the PRRS-resistant pig can also have secondary benefits, including improving the overall health of the herd and the sustainability of the production system. Research shows the PRRS virus makes pigs more susceptible to secondary infections. If herds can eliminate PRRS infections, pigs will have less need for antibiotic use, which reduces producers’ input costs and supports antimicrobial stewardship. It can also reduce the physical, mental and emotional strain on workers resulting from a PRRS outbreak.

Genetic improvements support sustainable protein production

PIC has over a 60-year legacy of providing genetic improvements in pigs​​. Gene editing allows PIC to accomplish genetic improvements — similar to those achieved through traditional breeding — faster.

Advanced genetics produce healthier animals. Healthy pigs typically consume feed and water more efficiently than pigs battling disease, which may reduce waste, carbon emissions and production costs. That, in turn, helps make farms and pork production more sustainable. PIC is working with credible, third-party researchers to conduct a Lifecycle Analysis to quantify these benefits and will share the research findings later this year.

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