Durham Firm Works To Catch Bacteria In Dairy Cows

Advanced Animal Diagnostics Inc. is looking to help milk producers save money by allowing them to catch a bacterial infection in dairy cows quickly.

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) β€” A Durham-based company is looking to launch a diagnostic test later this year that company officials say will help milk producers save money by allowing them to catch a bacterial infection in dairy cows quickly.

Officials with the company, Advanced Animal Diagnostics Inc., recently opened the doors to their office and laboratory space and demonstrated to government, business and other leaders how their diagnostic testworks.

Last year, the company closed on more than $11 million in equity financing that "allowed us to get to where we are today," said Joy Parr Drach, company president and CEO. The funding will also enable the launch of the company's first on-farm product, Drach said.

"Before the funding tranche, we did not have any employees, any salaried, full-time, paid employees, and we've been able to create tremendous job growth since the funding," she said.

The company has created 37 jobs over the past year, according to a news release. Twenty-two of those positions are local jobs, and the others are positions on dairy farms scattered throughout the country, Drach said.

The company moved into new office space in the fall, Drach said. Their approximately 4,000-square-foot space is located off Davis Drive, and has laboratory space that was completed recently.

The company hopes to deploy their diagnostic test later this year. The test was developed to detect mastitis, an infection of the milk-producing glands, in dairy cows.

The company's test is designed to detect an infection based on the ratio of different types of white blood cells in the cow's milk.

Although there are other diagnostic tests for mastitis on the market, Drach said the company's test is designed to be more accurate, and to deliver a result quickly.

David Calderwood, vice president of engineering and manufacturing for Advanced Animal Diagnostics, said the company designed the test to deliver a diagnosis in three minutes or less.

The company is now in trials to see what are the economic advantages to producers from using the test, Drach said.

Probably the "most significant hurdle" the company will face in bringing the test to market is helping producers understand the benefits of a new technology as well as the economic return, she said, which is why they're completing those trials.

"Mastitis is the single most costly disease in the dairy industry. In the U.S., producers lose about $2 billion per year to mastitis, and globally about $10 billion," Drach said. "So by accurate and early diagnosis, we believe we can offer significant savings to the producer."

Drach said most of the damage caused by a mastitis infection happens before it's visible.

"We're able to help the producer detect it early, and by detecting the infection early, they can save a significant amount of loss that is typically associated with damage to that milk-producing gland," she said.

The company was first incorporated in 2001 by Rudy Rodriguez after he retired from the New Jersey-based medical technology company Becton Dickinson and Co.

Drach said Rodriguez, the chief scientific officer for the company, developed a predecessor technology to what the company is looking to go to market with now.

"This is going to be a huge company some day," Rodriguez said.

Steve Washburn, a professor at N.C. State University, said the incidence of mastitis in dairy cows during the lactation period is very common.

There is a general somatic cell count test that can allow a producer to detect an infection in a cow from the count of cells including white blood cells, he said.

Keena Mullen, a doctoral student at N.C. State, said producers are paid a premium for milk with low somatic cell counts. If the cell count is too high, she said it can affect the shelf-life and the quality of milk.

Washburn said he believes Advanced Animal Diagnostic's test will be helpful particularly if it delivers a diagnosis as quickly as company officials say it can, and if it's affordable to producers "right there on the farm."

Drach said the company will be looking to sell to veterinarians and dairy producers, and said the product sales price will be finalized after the economic benefit research is completed.

More in Operations