Six-hour TB test to launch at the end of this month

A pioneering six-hour TB test is expected to launch by the end of November.

The test, called Actiphage, has been developed by start-up PBD Biotech based in Suffolk.

It will be able to detect live bacteria in blood or milk in just six hours, allowing affected cattle to be identified quickly before the infection spreads.

The new test for tuberculosis (TB) will be available in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, although not yet on a commercial basis.

Samples can be sent to the lab for testing or the firm can supply kits to labs to use.

This year it’s expected TB compensation will cost Northern Ireland £24 million – double the amount it cost the region just four years ago.

Chief veterinary officer Robert Huey said it was a cost the region could not afford.

Quicker and more effective

The new six-hour TB test is based on research conducted at the University of Nottingham by Dr. Cath Rees and Dr. Ben Swift, co-founders of PBD Biotech.

Dr. Rees explained the new test is not only quicker, but also also potentially more effective.

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.

She added: “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.”

Six-hour TB test

Trials in England

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.

PBD Biotech co-founder Dr. Berwyn Clarke said the firm is in “advanced talks” with authorities in France, Canada and the US over trials which are expected to start shortly.

In the UK, results from a trial in the West Country have proved promising.

Devon Vet Dick Sibley was given permission to complete his trials on a working dairy farm. He tested for TB 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.

By introducing strict biosecurity and hygiene regimes, and using the phage test and faeces PCR tests to identify high-risk animals, Sibley has managed to start to reduce levels of TB from this herd, leading to the first clear skin test results for five years.

The Actiphage test could also be used to give healthy cows a clean bill of health for travel, providing the industry with new ways to control movement of potentially infected animals both locally and internationally.