Zoetis expects to have PEDv vaccine ready this year

Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PEDv, has swept through global swine herds, killing an estimated 8 million piglets in the U.S. since it was first reported here in April 2013. Producers are desperate for protection. One vaccine hit the market in June, and now animal health leader Zoetis ($ZTS) says it may have a product ready for sale before year-end.

Zoetis CEO Juan Ramón Alaix told analysts last week in a call that the company is working closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on an inactivated or kill vaccine and expects to seek a "conditional license" from the agency this year. "Following any approval, we anticipate that we will be able to supply the markets soon after," Alaix said, according to a transcript of the call from Seeking Alpha.

Additionally, the company is working with Iowa State University on "an additional vaccine approach," as well as working with the University of Minnesota on a PEDv diagnostic test to help producers rapidly identify potential infections in their herds. He said the research should be applicable outside the U.S., and the company is looking into how to get regulatory approvals in all the affected markets worldwide.

On June 16, the USDA gave a conditional license to Ames, IA-based startup Harrisvaccines for its PEDv vaccine, marketed as iPED. Within weeks it had sold nearly 2 million doses. But demand will be huge worldwide for products that can test for and prevent or treat the condition. Veterinarians warned at the time of approval that another 2.5 million piglets will probably succumb to the virus within 12 months.

Another company, VMRD, has developed a diagnostic tool that can be used to detect an antibody to PEDv. VMRD announced in June it was marketing substrate slides that can be used for screening and surveillance of the virus. Ethan Adams, vice president of the Pullman, WA-based company, said that the slides might not be its final answer, but the company was trying to rapidly respond to the need.

The disease presents a number of challenges to Zoetis. Swine herds have been diminished, which can affect drug sales, but producers are also trying to put extra weight on their hogs to tap the rising prices. That has meant that its Engain additive has sold better than expected.

- here's the transcript of the call