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The Pirbright Institute

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The Pirbright Institute is a unique national centre and enhances the UK's capability to control, contain and eliminate viral diseases of animals through its highly innovative fundamental and applied bioscience. The Pirbright Institute thereby supports the competitiveness of UK livestock and poultry producers, and improves the quality of life of both animals and people.

The institute contributes to both national and international food security by the global reach of its world-class bioscience and expert advice. This is in the context of the ever-changing nature of viral disease threats emerging from the globalisation of trade, environmental change and expanding human and animal populations. Viral diseases cause severe negative impacts on the health of livestock, food availability and the prosperity of farmers and their rural communities – global problems that require global solutions.


Viral diseases pose a complex threat. Consequently, Pirbright brings a range of specialised fields to tackle the problems including virology, molecular biology, immunology, epidemiology, entomology, pathology, mathematical biology, genomics, bioinformatics, bioimaging, vaccinology and diagnostics.

The Pirbright Institute helped prevent an outbreak of bluetongue disease in the UK in 2008. Copyright: The Pirbright Institute

Pirbright's research focuses not only on eliminating viral diseases once they have entered the UK, but also reducing them overseas thereby minimising the threat to UK farmers whilst maintaining trade links and food imports. Furthermore, the institute's combination of innovative basic and applied research continues to result in new vaccines and diagnostics in partnership with commercial companies. Pirbright training programmes contribute highly skilled people for UK bioscience businesses, in addition to overseas trainees who then work more effectively to combat virus diseases in their native countries.

The impact of Pirbright's research is acknowledged around the globe. This is in part through contributing diagnostic services, expert analysis and advice through partnerships with international bodies such as the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the European Food Safety Authority, and the UK's Department for International Development (DfID). In collaboration with these organisations the institute played a major role in the global eradication of cattle plague (rinderpest).

The Pirbright Institute fosters collaboration worldwide to fight animal diseases. Copyright: The Pirbright Institute

The Pirbright Institute's primary focus is to combat livestock diseases. Within the UK, partners include Defra, farming and veterinary organisations, and animal health companies. Successful partnerships such as these protected the UK from bluetongue disease which was raging in neighbouring European countries in 2007. Pirbright has scores of partnerships with universities and research institutes within the UK and overseas, and with British government organisations, such as the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

The institute constitutes a unique national capability for the UK, providing high bio-containment level (CL) 4 laboratories, CL3 and CL4 animal experimentation facilities, and an insectary to combat newly emerging and re-emerging insect-transmitted viruses.

In 2011, the Government awarded BBSRC £80M to invest in Pirbright for development phase 2. With an additional £20M from BBSRC's own budget this will allow a £100M+ second phase of development to further enhance this national capability.

Phase 1

The multi-award winning state-of-the-art containment level 4 laboratory complex was officially opened on 31 October 2014 and is now operational. The BBSRC National Virology Centre: The Plowright Building can house up to 150 scientists and support staff undertaking research on highly contagious viruses such as foot-and-mouth disease virus, swine fever and highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses.

Copyright: Dan Schwalm/HDR
The new Plowright Building houses the BBSRC National Virology Centre. Copyright: HDR Architecture, Inc. © 2014 Dan Schwalm/HDR, Inc.

Phase 2

Due for completion in late 2015, these containment level 2 laboratories will accommodate 90 scientists working on viruses that do not require high containment. A new Biological Resources Facility for in-vivo work at various levels of containment is in the planning and is scheduled for completion in 2018.

In addition to its staff and facilities, the institute has key biological resources such as genetically defined lines of poultry and cattle and extensive reference collections of livestock and poultry viruses. Pirbright is therefore a hub with academic and commercial links radiating to other centres within the UK and overseas which enable them to utilise the institute's unique facilities, resources and expertise to counter the threats posed to agriculture, trade and animal health around the world.