Blood Test For Mad Cow In
People, Animals Patented

By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - A British biotech firm said on Wednesday it had won the world's first patent for a blood test for mad cow disease and hoped to launch the breakthrough diagnostic kit in around a year's time. Proteome Sciences Plc said its test, now covered by an Australian patent, could be used to screen national blood banks for vCJD as well as to diagnose disease in individuals and animals.
At the moment, the only definitive way to detect mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and its human version, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), is by analysis of brain samples after death.
A simple blood test would allow doctors to confirm the disease earlier in patients showing symptoms and let vets monitor the condition in animals before slaughter.
Several biotech companies are chasing the goal of a blood test, but Christopher Pearce, chief executive of the Surrey-based group, believes Proteome Sciences is in the lead.
``This is the first time there have been any patents issued in relation to the detection of variant CJD and BSE in blood,'' he told Reuters.
``Australia happens to be the first patent to come out. Patents applications in Europe and the US are also well underway. ``We are now actively talking to prospective partners who will bring commercial tests to the 12-18 months.''
The test works by detecting changes in prion proteins that occur in humans and animals with the debilitating brain diseases. Swiss-based Serono SA, which has developed a novel way of amplifying prions to make them easier to detect, is also working on a diagnostic test and hopes to find a licensing partner for its product in the first half of this year.
The human version of mad cow disease was first detected in 1996 by scientists who believe it is caught from eating beef contaminated with BSE. So far, there have more than 100 cases of vCJD worldwide, nearly all of them in Britain.

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