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The Pirbright Institute
Formation1987; 37 years ago (1987)
Legal statusGovernment-funded research institute (registered charity)
PurposeFarm animal health and diseases in the UK
Region served
United Kingdom
Around 350 staff - half researchers, half operations
Dr Bryan Charleston
Parent organization
c. £30 million
Formerly called
Institute for Animal Health

The Pirbright Institute (formerly the Institute for Animal Health) is a research institute in Surrey, England, dedicated to the study of infectious diseases of farm animals. It forms part of the UK government's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The institute employs scientists, vets, PhD students and operations staff.


It began in 1914 to test cows for tuberculosis. More buildings were added in 1925. Compton was established by the Agricultural Research Council in 1937. Pirbright became a research institute in 1939 and Compton in 1942. The Houghton Poultry Research Station at Houghton, Cambridgeshire was established in 1948. In 1963 Pirbright became the Animal Virus Research Institute and Compton became the Institute for Research on Animal Diseases. The Neuropathogenesis Unit (NPU) was established in Edinburgh in 1981. This became part of the Roslin Institute in 2007.[citation needed]

In 1987, Compton, Houghton and Pirbright became the Institute for Animal Health, being funded by BBSRC. Houghton closed in 1992, operations at Compton ended in 2015.[1][2] The Edward Jenner Institute for Vaccine Research was sited at Compton until October 2005, when it merged with the vaccine programmes of the University of Oxford and the Institute for Animal Health.[3]

The Pirbright site was implicated in the 2007 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth outbreak, with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) concluding that a local case of the disease was a result of contaminated effluent release either from the Pirbright Institute or the neighbouring Merial Animal Health laboratory.[4]

Significant investment (over £170 million) took place at Pirbright with the development of new world-class laboratory and animal facilities. The institute has been known as "The Pirbright Institute" since October 2012.

On 14 June 2019 the largest stock of the rinderpest virus was destroyed at the Pirbright Institute.[5]

Directors of note


The work previously carried out at Compton has either moved out to the university sector, ended or has been transferred to the Pirbright site. The Compton site currently carries out work on endemic (commonplace) animal diseases including some avian viruses and a small amount of bovine immunology whilst Pirbright works on exotic (unusual) animal diseases (usually caused by virus outbreaks). Pirbright has national and international reference laboratories of diseases. It is a biosafety level 4 laboratories (commonly referred to as "P4" or BSL-4).


25% of its income comes from a core grant from the BBSRC of around £11m. Around 50% comes from research grants from related government organisations, such as DEFRA, or industry and charities (such as the Wellcome Trust). The remaining 25% comes from direct payments for work carried out.[citation needed]

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has provided funding to the institute for research into veterinary infectious diseases and universal flu vaccine development.[7][8][9]


The Pirbright Institute carries out research, diagnostics and surveillance of viruses carried predominantly by farm animals, such as foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV), African swine fever, bluetongue, lumpy skin disease and avian and swine flu. Understanding of viruses comes from molecular biology.[10]

It carries out surveillance activities on farm animal health and disease movement in the UK.



The institute had two sites:

See also


  1. ^ a b "Pirbright Institute in Compton village to close". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 26 February 2013. Archived from the original on 1 March 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  2. ^ William Walker (26 June 2015). "Compton animal testing site to move out in August". Newbury Today. Newbury News and Media. Archived from the original on 18 May 2022. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  3. ^ "Jenner Vaccine Institute expands to link with Oxford University and Institute for Animal Health". 28 October 2005. Archived from the original on 23 May 2023. Retrieved 23 May 2023. The Edward Jenner Institute for Vaccine Research would move into a new era on November 1, 2005, merging with the vaccine programmes of the University of Oxford and the Institute for Animal Health (IAH). It would be led by Professor Adrian Hill, and would focus on human vaccine development at Oxford University and veterinary vaccines at the IAH.
  4. ^ "Initial report on potential breaches to biosecurity at the Pirbright site, 2007". Health and Safety Executive. 7 August 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 August 2007. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  5. ^ "Killer virus destroyed by UK lab". 14 June 2019. Archived from the original on 15 June 2019. Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  6. ^ Sellers, R. F. (2007). "John Burns Brooksby CBE" (PDF). Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 53: 77–92. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2007.0002. PMID 18543463. S2CID 73052383.
  7. ^ Brown, Matthew (17 June 2020). "Fact check: Neither Pirbright Institute nor Bill Gates owns novel coronavirus patent". USA TODAY. Archived from the original on 19 August 2020. Retrieved 2 May 2022.
  8. ^ "Fact check: Pirbright Institute does not have patent for a COVID-19 vaccine". Reuters. 6 August 2020. Archived from the original on 7 August 2020. Retrieved 3 May 2022.
  9. ^ "Our major stakeholders". Pirbright Institute. 7 May 2020. Archived from the original on 29 November 2020. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  10. ^ "Our mission & values". Pirbright Institute. 12 August 2015. Archived from the original on 22 November 2020. Retrieved 23 May 2023.

51°16′47″N 0°38′06″W / 51.2797°N 0.6349°W / 51.2797; -0.6349