‘The rapid quality assurance needed’: PBD Biotech develops ‘first sensitive test’ for mycobacteria

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

PBD Biotech completes seed funding round to ramp up expansion ©iStock/Crédits Brekbit
PBD Biotech completes seed funding round to ramp up expansion ©iStock/Crédits Brekbit
UK agri-tech start up PBD Biotech has developed what it claims is the “first rapid test for live mycobacteria”, closing a seed funding round that will accelerate its go-to-market strategy.

Set up just over 12 months ago, PBD Biotech has developed Actiphage, a tool the company described as a “rapid, highly sensitive test for bovine TB, Johne’s and other mycobacterial diseases”​.

Actiphage can accurately identify the presence of live bacteria in blood, milk or other tissue in as little as six hours. It can also distinguish between infected and vaccinated animals.

“Our proven Actiphage technology offers an efficient, effective quality control tool for a range of products from commercial testing of bulk milk to pasteurised milk, powdered milk, farm-gate sales and other dairy products,”​ PBD Biotech CEO, Dr Berwyn Clarke, told FoodNavigator.

The need for speed

The accuracy and speed of the test mean it could prove an important tool for food producers operating in the dairy sector. For instance, bovine TB is one of a group of diseases caused by mycobacteria that has devastated the agricultural industry worldwide.

In the past year, in the UK alone, bovine TB has led to the slaughter of over 30,000 cattle and cost the UK taxpayer more than £100m as, until now, there has been no accurate way to test for the disease.

Addressing this need, PBD has already seen strong interest from producers, Dr Clarke revealed.

“Our test has only just hit the market and, already, a number of producers whose herds have suffered TB breakdowns have used our risk assessment to prevent blanket contamination and loss of their dairy products – with Actiphage vouching them fit for human consumption."

He explained that – while authorities suggest it is largely safe to consume products from animals contaminated with bovine TB – a growing body of work is looking at the relationship between mycobacteria and human health conditions.
“There is a growing body of research that implicates M. paratuberculosis – which causes Johne’s disease in cattle - in the development of Crohn’s disease. No causal relationship between this mycobacteria and the inflammatory bowel condition has been established, although earlier this year milk buyers, such as Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group, announced that they would be delisting suppliers who are not engaged with Johne’s control plans.
“Actiphage offers the rapid quality assurance needed, while also providing a real opportunity to improve our understanding of mycobacteria and its associated diseases.”

Funding to step up global market expansion

PBD Biotech has secured £400,000 in its first major strategic investment round to fund international trials and launch a suite of products, the company revealed.
Early private investor Tom Green, former CEO of EU agri-business Spearhead International and chair of PBD’s board, commented: “This new technology has the potential to transform the way we operate in agriculture, and, additionally has huge application in the food industry.”
Green continued: “This round of investment is enabling PBD Biotech to accelerate its go to market strategy, putting more resources into manufacturing and lab development, as well as extending training capacity and conducting further trials work.”

The group has secured the UK Government’s approval for chronic herd breakdowns, and the company is currently conducting a number of field-based trials.
In May 2018, the UK Government accepted the phage-based technology for exceptional private use on TB-stricken cattle herds in England.
International trials are underway in Canada and France, with discussions in multiple additional regions including the US, Dubai and South America. As a result of this funding round, PBD Biotech has established a Canadian subsidiary for distribution and, in the longer term, manufacturing.

Related topics: Food safety, Food Safety & Quality

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