A Welsh dairy farm stricken by bovine TB is the first to gain permission to trial PBD Biotech’s rapid Actiphage blood test for M. bovis, the pathogen that causes this devastating disease.
Following the launch of new guidelines by the Welsh government, clarifying the use of non-validated testing, test developer PBD Biotech is encouraging more farmers to participate in further trials.
A record 12,799 cattle have been slaughtered in Wales alone this past year because of bovine TB; a 28% increase year on year, with one region recording a 190% increase.
To help accelerate the development of alternatives to the current tests, the Welsh government issued a new policy that set out the conditions needed for authorised use of non-validated tests in a cattle herd affected by a bovine TB breakdown.
A similar protocol was issued by UK government in 2018 for cattle herds in England; it includes Actiphage, following the test’s use as part of a successful private eradication plan on Devon dairy farm Gatcombe.
PBD Biotech, an early-stage agri-tech company based in Suffolk, is seeking more farms to trial Actiphage in order to gain the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) validation.
The Actiphage test offers the potential to revolutionise control of bovine TB by allowing detection of the disease within hours from a blood or milk sample.
Mossman Farming, in Ceredigion, is located in an area of chronic breakdown. It is a spring-calving milking herd with a total stock of 529, to date 312 dairy cows have been slaughtered.
Farmer Chris Mossman agreed to trial Actiphage after hearing about the Gatcombe pilot.
He explains: “TB is a massive problem in Ceredigion, so when I heard about Actiphage’s use at Gatacombe, helping to clear that dairy herd for the first time in six years, I wanted to try and replicate those findings here.
“Me – and many other farmers – are losing large numbers of animals. I’m trying to do all I can to get rid of this disease from my herd.”
In spring 2019, the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales granted permission for vet Robert Price-Jones to use Actiphage to screen high-risk cattle for M. bovis.
Price-Jones, who has been leading the trial, says: “Actiphage is able to identify the presence of relatively low numbers of M. bovis in the blood stream of infected cattle.
“It is not dependent upon an immune system response to the pathogen - in contrast to current validated tests - and so has greater sensitivity than such as the official Tuberculin SICCT skin test.
“The benefit of using Actiphage is that it offers the potential for eradicating the disease from the farm; as early identification of animals at risk of bovine TB enables heightened disease management and control.”
Under the terms of the Welsh government’s protocol, cattle not condemned for slaughter can be tested with Actiphage.
Those that give a positive result are identified with a ‘management’ marker, monitored and milked separately.
To prevent further contamination of the environment and to minimise risk to uninfected cattle, animals found to be ‘shedders’ are removed from the farm.
Although a decision to remove cattle based on a non-validated test will be at the farmers’ own expense, the Animal and Plant Health Agency has confirmed that during the trial, where a positive result is confirmed with statutory tests, the animals will be removed with compensation as normal.
So far, 100 animals from Mossman Farming have been tested with Actiphage and vet Robert Price-Jones is preparing a paper to publish the findings in early 2020.
PBD Biotech is offering reduced cost testing to support trials where the findings are made available to support validation of the test.