Transfer of an in vitro model for the evaluation of anticoccidial compounds

Why did we fund this project?

This award aims to pre-screen anti-parasitic compounds for coccidiosis in vitro replacing the need for some chickens in drug evaluation trials.

Coccidiosis is a global poultry disease caused by single-celled parasites that costs over £10 billion in lost revenue annually. The parasites damage the chicken gut wall causing weight loss and diarrhea with severe infections potentially resulting in bleeding into the gut and anaemia. Currently, the only way to test new therapeutics is by infecting animals. Dr Virginia Marugan-Hernandez has developed an in vitro screening method to eliminate early in development compounds with limited efficacy, so that they do not progress to in vivo testing. Virginia has used the methods in her laboratory to evaluate the anti-parasitic properties of two essential oils reducing the number of chickens used by two-thirds (from 540 to 180 animals). The in vitro screening stage can also be used to inform treatment strategies, including dosage timings and numbers, further reducing the need for in vivo testing.

Virginia will now transfer the method to SALUVET-innova, an SME spun-out of the Complutense University of Madrid. SALUVET-innova will offer the in vitro pre-screening stage as a service to other companies and research institutions. Initially, they will work with two other R&D companies working on novel compounds for coccidiosis to test these in vitro before these are progressed to in vivo trials.

The development of in vitro models can support important advances in biomedical sciences and significantly reduce the use of experimental animals. The transference of these models for a wider uptake is paramount to make results comparable between different research groups and to support a global reduction of animal use in research. At the Royal Veterinary College, we have recently developed and published an in vitro model for the evaluation of anti-parasitic properties of novel compounds intended to be used for control of chicken coccidiosis. Chicken coccidiosis, a costly disease for the poultry industry (>£10 billion annually) caused by protozoa parasites of the genus Eimeria. The control of this disease is mostly achieved by chemoprophylaxis with drugs; nonetheless, there is an overall agreement of the need to improve current methods of control due to the reported resistances, new regulations on their use and public concerns.

Anti-parasitic activity of new compounds is currently evaluated by expensive experiments that involve large numbers of chickens. In a first application of our model, the in vitro prescreening of two essential oils led to a reduction of 67% of the chickens planned for the in vivo trials. Therefore, this model could have an impact in the replacement/reduction of the number of chickens used for research in new anticoccidials. In order to allow a global impact, we propose in this project the optimisation and transfer of the model to SALUVET-innova, a company focus on knowledge transfer to generate new services and products, which will adopt it and test compounds from ADIBIO and SETNA (animal nutrition companies) as well as and offer its use to other companies and research institutions. We have estimated that if 10 to 20 new compounds are pre-screened per year by the model, a reduction of 750-1,500 chickens out of 4,000 (average number used to test anticoccidials per year) could be achieved per annum, meaning a 20-40% of overall reduction.

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Skills and Knowledge Transfer grant




Royal Veterinary College

Grant reference number


Award date

Oct 2021 - Mar 2023

Grant amount