Actiphage® – a new test for bovine tuberculosis (bTB) – will soon be available from start-up PBD Biotech based in Suffolk, UK. It brings fresh hope for the stricken dairy industry which has seen over thirty thousand cows slaughtered this year after contracting the disease. 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 explains: “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% 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.
Other countries are moving fast to get the test introduced to help fight this and other tuberculosis diseases. Co-founder of PBD Biotech and life sciences entrepreneur Dr Berwyn Clarke says the company is in advanced talks with authorities in France, Canada and the USA over trials to start shortly.
The Actiphage test can also be used in the dairy industry and could be vital to improve quality assurance, allowing rapid detection of contaminated milk or dairy products, especially those sold at the farm gate or using unpasteurised milk. It could also be used for giving healthy cows a clean bill of health for travel, preventing spread of the disease and providing the industry with new ways to control movement of potentially infected animals both locally and internationally.