Welsh take initiative in tackling bovine TB as disease hits 10-year high

This past year Wales has seen the highest number of cattle slaughtered due to bovine TB in 10 years[i]. New test developer PBD Biotech has been invited to discuss its Actiphage TB diagnostic, and early findings from the first Welsh trial of the rapid test, at the Centre of Excellence for Bovine Tuberculosis’ inaugural AberTB Conference this month (17 September) as part of its focus on ‘Diagnosis of Bovine TB: Current Practice and Future Innovations’.

Research has confirmed the new Actiphage test is able to accurately detect only live mycobacteria cells, differentiating infected animals from vaccinated ones, and can be used for livestock, wildlife and a range of other species. At the AberTB Conference, Dr Ben Swift, PBD Biotech’s Director of R&D, will share updates on the Actiphage test, how it detects TB in blood and milk samples, and timescales for the test’s validation.

Dr Swift explains:

“By identifying cattle carrying low levels of live Mycobacterium bovis, Actiphage can give farmers, vets and other animal health experts a much-needed head-start on the race to catch TB, helping to inform an effective disease management strategy.”

The most recent official figures for Wales show over 12,000 cattle were slaughtered due to bovine TB in the 12 months to May 2019, a 21% increase on the previous year.

A farm-based trial is underway in Ceredigion on a chronic breakdown dairy unit. The trial, licensed by the Welsh Government, is the first of its kind in Wales. It is being led by Clinical Director of Tysul Vets, Robert Price-Jones, and is running alongside Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) statutory testing. Carefully selected high risk cattle are being Actiphage-tested in addition to the standard skin testing, Gamma Interferon and ELISA blood testing being performed by APHA. This has enabled the detection of M. Bovis in cattle that have tested clear by all other testing methods.

Vet Robert Price-Jones says:

“There remains a need for an accurate blood test that detects M. bovis directly, rather than relying on immunological methods of detection.

“The trial’s initial results indicate that Actiphage has a high sensitivity and specificity with nearly 60% of our ‘high risk’ group of animals testing positive. All of these high risk animals had recently tested clear to the conventional skin test and Gamma Interferon tests in the two weeks prior to testing with Actiphage. A small number of the Actiphage-positive animals later tested positive to an ELISA antibody test.

“The trial is ongoing yet our initial results suggest Actiphage will detect animals harbouring M. bovis that conventional testing is failing to detect.”

In May 2018, the APHA included Actiphage in its exceptional private use protocol for TB-stricken cattle herds in England, following its use as part of a successful private eradication programme on a Devon dairy farm. The test is also undergoing trials in USA state labs for the improved detection of bTB.

Part of the mission of the Centre of Excellence for Bovine Tuberculosis, established at Aberystwyth University last October, is to develop further pan-industry awareness of developments within the field of bovine TB and efforts to control this highly damaging disease. Its inaugural day-long AberTB conference aims to ensure effective knowledge exchange and discussion between all key stakeholders interested in and affected by the disease.

The keynote speech will be given by Professor Christianne Glossop, Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, who will provide an update on progress with bTB Eradication in Wales. Other speakers will discuss key areas of work in TB diagnosis including the immunology of the disease, detection of mycobacteria and how to optimise testing. The summary will be given by Welsh Dairy Farmer Abi Reader, founder of #CowsOnTour.

[i] The most recent official figures for Wales show over 12,000 cattle were slaughtered due to bovine TB in the 12 months to May 2019, a 21% increase on the previous year https://gov.wales/incidence-tuberculosis-tb-cattle-great-britain-may-2019