Livestock producers in many parts of the world will recognise the Moredun Research Institute (MRI) name and, even if they do not, the chances are they will have benefited from its work.
Professor Julie Fitzpatrick is scientific director of MRI as well as chief executive of the Moredun Foundation, the overall organisation.
She spoke to Couurier Farming about her work and challenges.
Q What sort of work does MRI carry out?
A It focuses on outputs that can be used by farmers in Scotland, the UK and across the world: things such as vaccines, diagnostic tests and disease control programmes.
Q Can you give us an example?
A One major issue is targeted selective treatment to help minimise the use of anthelmintics and to maximise their duration of activity.
Many of the drugs we use against parasites particularly in sheep are less effective than they used to be, with some of the worms resistant to the drugs we use.
One of the things we do is target just the lambs that specifically need treatment. That means farmers use less product, and also helps drive down the pressure on drug resistance developing.
Q Any other examples of the Moredun work?
A We use science to suggest to people how to manage their animals to reduce the impact of the livestock contracting a particular disease.
A good example of this is cryptosporidiosis, which can affect lambs and calves and can transmit to humans.
We do not have a vaccine but we know that young animals can pick it up from other animals, and they can also pick it up from the environment including watercourses.
This is where providing advice on husbandry measures is important.
These are complicated examples where there is no single solution, and an integrated approach is needed.
Q How many people are employed at Moredun?
A About 200 in total across the Moredun group. The biggest part is MRI, which employs about 150 staff, with another 50 in other parts of the companies and charities.
Q When was it set up?
A In 1920 a group of Scottish farmers were having trouble with their sheep dying and could not work out the cause of infection and death.
They decided to take matters into their own hands and employed veterinary scientists who happened to come from Glasgow Vet School.
They found out they were dying from clostridial diseases: things like braxy and lamb dysentery.
The success of that early venture meant not only did they discover the causes of the diseases, but Moredun was early in developing vaccines against clostridial disease.
Q Moredun continues to have very strong farming links, does it not?
A That is part of our history and part of our success. The whole of the Moredun business the land, building and most of the equipment is owned by the Moredun Foundation.
It is one of Scotland’s largest charities, with about 13,000 members who pay about £25 per annum.
When the Moredun moved to the Pentland Science Park, where we are now, money was borrowed to establish the current site.
This means the site is mostly owned by our members: farmers, vets and agricultural advisers.
Another key aspect is that there are still a high proportion of farmers on our various boards. Two are chaired by farmers and two by veterinary surgeons. So farmers are still helping us make business and research decisions.
Q While you are an independent organisation, I get the impression there is also a great deal of cooperation both in the UK and abroad with other research institutes.
A We are linked with other research units in Scotland including SRUC, the James Hutton Institute and the Rowett Research Institute.
We also work with universities across Scotland and the UK, as well as having strong links to other institutes around the world.
I would particularly like to mention Australia, where we are working with a number of organisations to help produce the Haemonchus contortus or barber pole worm vaccine.
MRI has very strong links with organisations in east Africa, particularly in Tanzania, and growing links with Brazil and Uruguay as well as contacts across the United States and Europe.
Although we might be seen as a relatively small organisation in a relatively small country, we have worldwide reach.
Q The Courier recently told how the barber pole vaccine was produced. Is there any special aspect of this you would like to highlight?
A We decided to take forward not only the development of the vaccine but also the commercialisation of it. The scientists involved were keen that our vaccine actually got out there and was used by livestock farmers.
Because Moredun is a not-for-profit organisation we have been able to produce the vaccine at a price the Australian farmers will be able to afford.
Q Isn’t that is quite a major development for a small Scottish organisation?
A Yes. Nowadays most organisations that develop vaccines in animal health are the large pharmaceutical companies and they are mostly based in the USA or China.
In contrast to commercial vaccines we believe there are also niche areas where farmers and society need vaccines to prevent infectious disease of livestock or wildlife.
A very good example is our work producing a vaccine for squirrel pox, which is known to kill red squirrels across the UK and Europe.
We have some very promising results from this work and hope to continue this.
Q Moredun also receives financial support from the Scottish Government, doesn’t it?
A We are very grateful for the support the Scottish Government has provided over many decades. Their funding underpins the success of our business. By providing funds it allows us to lever at least the same again from other bodies.
The Scottish Government has been very supportive in underpinning our work on infectious, endemic diseases of livestock.
It is the endemic diseases that are with us all the time that affect the welfare and health of the livestock and stop them being as productive and efficient as they should be.
Q You still have a strong link with Glasgow Vet School as chair of Food Security.
A That is because Moredun has had strong links with Glasgow, going right back to the 1920s.
We have many joint appointments and posts, including in the recent past a very large EU-funded project worth nine million euros called Paravac.
I am delighted to say we have just received another nine million for a follow-on project called Paragone. That is an amazing success showing that two Scottish organisations can leverage large sums of money from the EU.
Q You also serve on a number of high-level veterinary science committees including GALVmed. What does this latter body do?
A It is a Scottish-based charity which works in a number of African countries.
It is all about getting new technologies to poor livestock keepers to help them deal with infectious diseases in livestock.
It has received millions of US dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and many other major funding bodies.
Bill Gates came to the Moredun a couple of months ago to see the work that is being done. It is an excellent example of how an organisation based in Scotland can reach out to other less well-off parts of the world.