Pancreas disease caused by salmonid alphaviruses leads to severe losses in Atlantic salmon aquaculture. The aim of our study was to gain a better understanding of the biological differences between salmon with high and low genomic breeding values (H-gEBV and L-gEBV respectively) for pancreas disease resistance. Fish from H- and L-gEBV families were challenged by intraperitoneal injection of salmonid alphavirus or co-habitation with infected fish. Mortality was higher with co-habitation than injection, and for L- than H-gEBV. Heart for RNA-seq and histopathology was collected before challenge and at four- and ten-weeks post-challenge. Heart damage was less severe in injection-challenged H- than L-gEBV fish at week 4. Viral load was lower in H- than L-gEBV salmon after co-habitant challenge. Gene expression differences between H- and L-gEBV manifested before challenge, peaked at week 4, and moderated by week 10. At week 4, H-gEBV salmon showed lower expression of innate antiviral defence genes, stimulation of B- and T-cell immune function, and weaker stress responses. Retarded resolution of the disease explains the higher expression of immune genes in L-gEBV at week 10. Results suggest earlier mobilization of acquired immunity better protects H-gEBV salmon by accelerating clearance of the virus and resolution of the disease.