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Mad Cow Disease Spurs Interest in Tests

by Marc S. Reisch
January 5, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 1

The appearance of mad-cow-disease-tainted beef in the U.S. food supply is spurring interest in commercially available diagnostics.

Today in the U.S., only 20,000 out of 35 million cattle butchered annually are tested for the disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. However, observers expect increased use of tests to detect it in infected animals as a means of preventing its transmission to the human population.

Bio-Rad Laboratories, for instance, has millions of dollars in sales of such tests in Europe and Japan. Though the firm does not have approval to sell the tests in the U.S., investors anticipate the need and bid its shares up 20% to $59.82 on the day after the Department of Agriculture revealed the appearance of the disease in Washington state.

Other firms with tests approved in Europe include Abbott Laboratories, InPro Biotechnology, and Switzerland-based Prionics.

Strategic Diagnostics has a test that detects meat and bone meal in animal feed, rather than the presence of diseased tissue. Such a test would help enforce compliance with animal feed regulations designed to prevent the spread of mad cow disease to uninfected animals.

Another firm with technology to fight the spread of the disease to people is V. I. Technologies. The firm is now in Phase III testing of a system intended to remove infected prions--agents of mad cow disease and the human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease--from blood products intended for human use.


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