Benchmark's animal health division has entered into an agreement with Evax AG, a Swiss equine biotech company, to develop a recombinant vaccine to prevent and treat the most prevalent skin disease in horses, Sweet Itch, also known as Insect Bite Hypersensitivity (IBH).
Sweet Itch is caused by an allergic immune response to Culicoides midge saliva.
The disease poses a significant welfare challenge for horses through intense itching and biting which causes inflammation and often breaks the skin, allowing infection to set in. It affects 7.5% of the global horse population; the estimated total market value for treatment of the disease is over £100 million per annum.
Benchmark says there is currently no efficacious preventative treatment or licensed vaccine available for controlling Sweet Itch in horses.
The new vaccine utilises a Virus Like Particle technology (VLP), to which is attached a specific equine cytokine known to be implicated in this allergic disease. It combines the best of human science, cutting-edge technology and veterinary medicine to improve the quality of life of horses and horse owners.
The Company expects the first commercialised product to be made available for the European, US and Canadian markets by 2020-21, followed by other markets.
Under the terms of the agreement, Benchmark will pay total consideration of £1.12m and is contributing up to a further £4m over the next 4 years towards development, which will be conducted part in-house and part externally.
Evax has granted Benchmark worldwide rights for sales, distribution and manufacturing of the product (excluding Switzerland) with royalties on net sales. Manufacturing will be performed at Benchmark's state-of-the-art Braintree site.