Actiphage TB, a new test for bovine tuberculosis (bTB), will soon be available from start-up PBD Biotech based in Suffolk. The company said its move brings fresh hope for the dairy industry which has seen over 30,000 cows slaughtered this year after contracting the disease.
PBD Biotech said the new test can detect live bacteria in blood or milk in just six hours, allowing affected cattle to be identified quickly before the infection spreads.
The test is based on research conducted at the University of Nottingham by Drs Cath Rees and Ben Swift, co-founders of PBD Biotech.
Dr Rees said: “The existing skin test is based on the animal’s immune response, and takes three days to produce a result, but more worryingly is known to miss about 20 per cent of infected animals.
“Our new test is unique as it is the only test that directly detects live bacteria in blood or milk and is fast, specific and highly sensitive. Additionally the test can distinguish between a vaccinated and an infected animal (DIVA test) paving the way for new types of disease control in the future when vaccines are available.”
PBD Biotech has been successful in raising finance to create and manufacture test kits based on the phage technology developed by Dr Rees.
Although unlicensed at present for commercial use, the test kits are available for research and validation studies, which are vital for approval by Defra and other global authorities. Co-founder of PBD Biotech and life sciences entrepreneur Dr Berwyn Clarke said the company is in advanced talks with authorities in France, Canada and the USA over trials to start shortly.
In the UK, results from a trial in the West Country have proved promising. Devon vet Dick Sibley was given permission earlier this year to complete his trials on a working dairy farm. He tested for bTB in blood, milk and faeces and found that the phage test was able to detect infection months before the skin test gave a positive result. This showed that cows previously labelled as ‘healthy’ using the skin test were actually carriers of the bacteria, potentially transmitting it to other animals in the herd and also to calves at birth.
Research kits will be available from the end of November 2017 via the company website www.pbdbio.com.