Test ‘could be a game changer’ in combatting TB in livestock

A biotech company which has developed a rapid test that could be a ‘game changer’ in combatting tuberculosis (TB) in livestock has raised £2.3m to help bring its product to market.

The funding for PBD Biotech has come from a consortium led by Mercia and the Foresight Group, which were both investing through the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF); the University of Nottingham; the government’s Future Fund; and private investors including farmers and veterinary practices. It will allow the company to take its Actiphage test through to validation by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to enable it to be adopted internationally.

Bovine TB is a major problem in terms of animal welfare, resulting in the slaughter of over 300,000 cattle in Great Britain in the past decade and costing the UK taxpayer £500m. The disease can spread to other animals including badgers and is thought to cause both TB and Crohn’s disease in humans.

The current skin test uses the animal’s immune response to indicate the level of infection and can miss up to 50% of infected cattle. By contrast, Actiphage detects the mycobacteria which cause disease from a blood or milk sample. It is faster and more accurate, allowing farmers to identify infected animals at an early stage and remove them from the herd. It could be used for rapid screening of cattle prior to movement, quality assurance in dairy products and to differentiate infected animals from those that are vaccinated, paving the way for the introduction of a vaccination programme.

Actiphage recently won the British Veterinary Association Innovation Award 2021 and was described as ‘having the potential to be a game changer in tackling bovine TB’. There is also potential for the test to be adapted for use in humans.

PBD Biotech is based at the University of Nottingham with an office in Thurston, Suffolk. The company currently employs six people and expects to create more than 10 new jobs over the next three years.

Sandy Reid, Investment Director at Mercia, comments: “PBD Biotech’s Actiphage test could radically improve disease control in the dairy sector, offering huge economic benefits for farmers both in the UK and internationally. This investment comes at a key moment in the company’s development as it will allow crucial validation trials to start – a key step to accelerate its progress on to the farms. We are also excited about the potential to further develop the test to detect TB in human blood samples.”

Mark Hammond, CEO of PBD Biotech, says: “It has been shown on-farm that when Actiphage is used within a disease management strategy it is possible to eliminate bovine TB from a herd and maintain a disease-free status. There is a significant international unmet need for a rapid test like Actiphage; with this funding we will be able to perform the validation studies required for regulatory approval and drive commercialisation of the technology.”

Ken Cooper, Managing Director at the British Business Bank, said: “Through a combination of finance from the Future Fund, MEIF and other stakeholders, this investment is another example of how MEIF can unlock additional capital from the other investors. The Fund is committed to driving forward Midlands’ innovation and we look forward to seeing PBD Biotech reaching the next level as it takes its Actiphage® test through to validation.”

Sajeeda Rose, Chief Executive of the D2N2 LEP, said: “I’m pleased to see continued investment by the Midlands Engine Investment Fund into innovative businesses. It is great to see a University of Nottingham spin-out doing well, with the investment allowing PDB Biotech to accelerate its growth, and continue its research and development to transform disease diagnosis and deliver huge economic benefits to farmers globally.”

Mike Jackson at Browne Jacobson provided legal advice to Mercia on the deal, while Ashtons Legal advised the company.

The Midlands Engine Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.