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A Suffolk company that has developed a highly sensitive test for mycobacteria, which can rapidly detect infection in blood, milk and other tissue samples and counter deadly bovine diseases, has entered the Disruptive Technology category of the Business Weekly Awards.

Thurston-based PBD Biotech has invented the only such test for mycobacteria, which are responsible for bovine TB and Johne’s Disease – both economically disastrous.

The technology also has significant potential in countering human infections and protecting food production.

Trials have demonstrated the effectiveness of Actiphage, which can detect mycobacteria at low levels in blood or milk within six hours. The test has applications in quality control of dairy products and could revolutionise the way bovine TB and other livestock diseases are identified and managed.

The company was established in 2016 and has gained funding, UK government approval, proven efficacy in the field, opened an office in Canada and started international trials.

The technology is not just a boon for livestock owners. Bovine tuberculosis is a growing problem for zoos and wildlife parks, especially with the disease’s potential to spread from one species to another, creating a natural reservoir that is difficult to control.

Actiphage was discussed at the British Veterinary Zoological Society Congress in Birmingham last week.

Antelopes, elephants, tigers and kangaroos are among the species that have been tested with the easy-to-use diagnostic, offering a new way to detect and manage TB, as Dr Ben Swift, R & D director at PBD Biotech and Research Fellow at the Royal Veterinary College, explained to vets and other exotic species specialists at the conference. Deer, giraffes and other species will also benefit from this rapid diagnostic.

TB in zoos came to public attention last year when Devon’s Paignton Zoo detected a single case in one of its antelope. Without access to a test that would deliver rapid results, the zoo had to cull the remaining 10-strong herd of Kafue Flats lechwe.

The Actiphage test has the ability to identify TB and other mycobacterial diseases in animals before clinical symptoms of infection are observed.
It can detect with high specificity the presence of any mycobacteria in animal blood within six hours in comparison to culturing mycobacteria, which can take up to 12 weeks.

The technology has been successfully applied to blood samples from 17 different species so far, including alpacas, deer, goats and badgers as well as exotic animals such as lions, giraffes and camels.

Dr Swift says: “The Actiphage detection method provides a major step change in the detection of viable mycobacteria and has the potential to revolutionise the control and understanding of mycobacterial diseases in zoo animals, wildlife and a range of other species.

“The use of bacteriophage means the test can detect mycobacteria before an immune response is fully developed, giving vets, zookeepers and other exotics experts a head start on the race to catch TB and other diseases in the hope of preventing the unnecessary cull of protected animals.”

Last month PBD announced that its key technology patent had been granted by the European Patent Office as it was stressed that the technology was also applicable to human infections including other bacterial families.

Dr Berwyn Clarke, PBD Biotech’s CEO, said: “The technology has already been successfully applied for analysis of blood and milk and, for the first time, gives a realistic alternative to culture but within 6 to 8 hours rather than many weeks.

“Having the patent granted for the Actiphage Rapid technology is a major milestone for the company and allows us to confidently pursue our commercialisation plans in Europe and internationally.”

Earlier this year, the UK Government Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) approved Actiphage for exceptional private use in farms where there is chronic infection of bovine TB. This followed a successful on-farm demonstration, which used Actiphage to provide early identification of affected cows as part of a successful disease management strategy.

In August PBD closed a £400k seed funding round to fund international trials and launch a suite of products.

In the past year, in the UK alone, bovine TB has led to the slaughter of over 30,000 cattle and cost the UK taxpayer more than £100 million as, until now, there has been no accurate way to test for the disease.

International trials of the technology are underway in Canada and France, with discussions in multiple regions including the USA, Dubai and South America.

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