South African cattle diagnostic test eyes global markets

cow farm

Cattle farmers can now test their animals on the spot for brucellosis, a highly infectious disease that threatens both bovine and human life. Much like a pregnancy test, the new diagnostic tool, developed by LifeAssay Diagnostics and supported by NEPAD SANBio, gives results within 10 minutes, and with even greater accuracy than slower, more expensive lab tests.

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease of cows and other animals. It  causes stillbirths and abortions in cows, and it can move from cows to humans through infected milk, presenting a great risk to consumers.
Louis Roux, Managing Director of the Cape Town-based company, LifeAssay Diagnostics, says for traditional lab-based tests, “you have to draw blood from the animal, and then transport it to the lab, and then you wait anything from eight days to two weeks for the result.” 

While further tests still need to be conducted in the lab, the innovative LifeAssay test gives a positive or negative result within 10 minutes, which allows farmers to immediately take action. If the result is negative, the animal can be introduced safely into the rest of the herd, whereas a delayed result from the lab might put other members of the herd at risk of infection.

Roux says the LifeAssay team has also been able to boost the accuracy of the test beyond what laboratory tests can achieve.

He says that as a preliminary diagnostic tool, the key is to determine if the disease is there or not, not how much of the bacteria is present. “We find that the test is far more accurate; it is what we would call more sensitive and more specific.”

The test does not need to be refrigerated and it is much cheaper than current lab-based tests. It is already making an impact in countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, with plans to break into more global markets, all thanks to funding and partnerships provided by the Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio) BioFISA II programme.

In line with the BioFISA II programme’s aim to support multinational product development and commercialisation in southern Africa, LifeAssay Diagnostics worked with partners in Zimbabwe and Botswana to test and validate their new product. All three countries are in great need of the rapid test, so the partnership is an opportunity to validate the product in the real world.

Roux foresees that the partnership will continue for several years as the test improves and a market is generated in the southern African region and beyond. 

Researchers at the Faculty of Veterinary Science of the University of Zimbabwe and the Botswana National Veterinary Laboratory will soon publish a study on how well the rapid test works. “So far the results look very good,” says Roux.

Funding and support from the BioFISA II programme has been good for LifeAssay and their partners, but Roux says the programme has had a large impact for biotechnology in South Africa as a whole. 

“Not only does it open up the African market for us, but also global markets,” Roux says.