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Agritech firm PBD Biotech secures £200,000 investment for same-day bovine TB test kit

PUBLISHED: 12:05 01 September 2017 | UPDATED: 12:05 01 September 2017

Cattle awaiting testing for bovine TB. Picture: Matthew Usher

Cattle awaiting testing for bovine TB. Picture: Matthew Usher

© Archant Norfolk 2015

An East Anglian bio-tech firm has pioneered a new test for bovine tuberculosis (TB), which it claims could revolutionise the speed and accuracy of disease diagnosis.

Cattle being skin-tested for bovine TB under the current system. Picture: Matthew UsherCattle being skin-tested for bovine TB under the current system. Picture: Matthew Usher

PBD Biotech, based in Thurston, near Bury St Edmunds, has secured £200,000 of investment to commercialise its diagnostic kit, which detects the presence of disease-causing mycobacteria in blood and milk samples.

Founder and chief executive Dr Berwyn Clarke said the current testing method – which can take days to assess an immune response from the animal plus six weeks of laboratory work to confirm inconclusive results – is only 75pc accurate.

By contrast, he said his test could provide definitive, accurate results within six hours, which could save time money for farmers, and reduce animal stress.

He is in the process of securing the necessary approvals from animal health regulators, but said the first commercial kits could be ready as soon as October.

Dr Berwyn Clarke of PBD Biotech, based near Bury St Edmunds.Dr Berwyn Clarke of PBD Biotech, based near Bury St Edmunds.

“It is just such a massive breakthrough in a diagnostic area where there is a real need,” he said. “The basic problem in this area is there have been no real improvements in diagnosis in animals for years. The current test is really antiquated and it misses 25pc of the animals that are infected.

“What our test does, which is completely radical, is it tests directly for the presence of the mycobacteria itself. Because our technology is so much more sensitive, we can find it in blood and milk without any problem.

“The test is completely unambiguous – it is yes or no. It is very robust and accurate. I would say it is better than 90pc accurate, but I would be confident that it is a lot more than that.

“Because it is so much more effective and you get fewer animals affected, the health aspects are really compelling. This disease costs billions globally in lost productivity. It is not an expensive test and we could manufacture a global supply of it from our base at Bury St Edmunds.”

The testing method was developed in partnership with the University of Nottingham, and was derived from a test originally aimed at identifying TB in humans.

Dr Clarke said the “angel” investment, secured from Cambridge Agritech Ltd and Anglia Capital Group (ACG), will allow PBD Biotech to complete its manufacturing infrastructure and explore global business development opportunities.

ACG’s business manager Hannah Smith said: “Few companies have generated so much interest from our members. PBD meets so many of the key criteria investors look for, such as ground-breaking technology, experienced management, clear route to market and an exit strategy.”

INDUSTRY REACTION

The new TB test could potentially bring major benefits to cattle farmers – but first it must win regulatory approval.

Shipdham dairy farmer Ken Proctor is a Norfolk representative on the Bovine TB Eradication Advisory Group for England (TBEAG).

After attending a meeting at the APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency) laboratories in Weybridge in Surrey, he said: “It is one of several tests the APHA is watching with great interest. The problem at the moment is that it needs OIE (the World Organisation for Animal Health) approval.

“That testing has got to be rigorous, because if it gives a positive reactor you could be talking about the loss of a lot of animals.

“We all hope it gets approval, but it is too early to say whether it is the silver bullet or not. They had the current skin test when my father was young, which tells you how old it is. The exciting thing about this new test is the quicker result, so it could be a win-win for everybody.”

Roger Long, a cattle dealer based in Scarning, near Dereham, added: “We are trying to fight this disease with a test that’s only 80pc effective.

“The cattle suffer, of course, but that uncertainty also takes a toll on the farmer.

“Everyone has been banging on for ages about a more efficient test with more speed to it. That is what causes the heartache in the human population, when the poor farmer is left hanging on for six or seven weeks. And then you have to test them again after 60 days.

“If this new test means just catching the animals once and taking a blood sample – that alone I could go for. If it reduces the number of handlings it reduces the stress for both animal and humans.”

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