PBD Biotech’s Actiphage TB test is highlighted in the Godfray TB Review of the Government’s eradication strategy, published this week (13 November), as one of the additional tests that some farmers “would like to employ … to accelerate the removal of infected individuals and to better manage within herd transmission”.
PBD Biotech’s CEO Dr Berwyn Clarke, who responded to the review’s consultation call for submissions earlier this year, commented on Godfray’s recommendations: “It’s encouraging to see this independent review acknowledge farmers’ need for additional tests to better identify and manage TB on farm.
“There’s an increasing body of evidence that indicates the sensitivity of the existing skin test is much lower than previously thoughts, meaning many infected animals are being left in herd. It is vital that this hidden reservoir of infection is eradicated; otherwise, all other interventions will have very little benefit. And it casts doubt on whether TB-free status is genuinely the case.
“Actiphage’s sensitivity is higher than that of existing tests and trials have shown it is routinely able to detect live mycobacteria in blood or milk – at less than 10 mycobacterial cells per ml of sample.”
Studies demonstrate Actiphage’s reliability; a survey of SCCIT-positive UK cattle tested at slaughter, using Actiphage, found live Mycobacterium bovis in not only the blood of all animals with visible lesions but also in 93% of animals with no visible lesions following post-mortem examination. In contrast, no mycobacteria were detected in blood samples from control animals that were taken from a high-biosecurity status herd known to be disease-free.
Dr Clarke continued: “The technology’s unique capacity to differentiate between live, or viable, and non-viable cells – meaning that it can also distinguish between a vaccinated and an infected animal – paves the way for new types of disease control when vaccines become available in the future, as called for as a priority by Professor Godfray.”
PBD Biotech’s highly sensitive and specific Actiphage assay was included in the Government’s ‘Exceptional private use’ policy for chronic TB breakdowns in England when it was updated 6 months ago. This new strategy was driven by the test’s field validation, during studies conducted by Devon-based vet Dick Sibley, who incorporated Actiphage into a disease management strategy to help clear a dairy herd that had been stricken with TB since 2012.
TB in cattle costs UK taxpayers £100m in compensation every year – with 33,000 infected animals slaughtered in 2017.
The Review, commissioned by Environment Secretary Michael Gove in February, aims to inform future strategies around the government’s goal of eradicating bovine TB by 2038. The report highlighted the need for stringent testing around cattle movements to clamp down on disease spread and greater flexibility in adapting bovine TB control measures as new research findings emerge.
Dr Clarke added: “Actiphage is involved in a number of further studies with bovine, ovine as well as exotic species in the UK and overseas. We are keen to work together with DEFRA to support the roll out of new disease management protocols, which include Actiphage, to achieve the most effective results for farmers and make the UK TB free.”
The Godfray report is now with Ministers who will consider its recommendations before publishing a response, setting out the next steps for the bovine TB Strategy.