Joseph Harvey, Head of Animal Health at IHS Markit, recently met and interviewed Mastaplex CEO Dr Olaf Bork. Joe's feature article in the IHS Markit Agribusiness Intelligence service - a leading source of analysis for the global Agribusiness sector - is reproduced below, with permission.
Mastaplex takes mastitis test further into underserved on-farm diagnostics market
9 Aug 2022 - Animal Health | Headline Analysis
Mastaplex is a young New Zealand-based veterinary diagnostics company that has already begun breaking out of its domestic market and selling its technology globally. S&P Global’s head of animal health Joseph Harvey met the firm’s founder and chief executive Olaf Bork to hear more about Mastaplex’s next steps.
Olaf Bork was inspired to establish Mastaplex in 2016 after spending time researching mastitis treatments. He stated: “We were running a huge number of trials and we realized with mastitis you often don’t know what you’re treating. If you know what you are treating, then it would be a much more efficient process.
“There are many different reasons why an animal’s udder might be inflamed. Whilst most cases are due to bacteria, mastitis can also be caused by fungi, yeast or an udder injury. If it is not caused by bacteria, then antibiotic treatment is not required.”
Dr Bork also pointed out studies have shown certain bacteria – namely gram negative species such as E coli – do not require treatment with an antibiotic because the cow’s immune system can very effectively fight the infection by itself. This means a diagnostic tool that could identify the cause of mastitis may reduce the number of cases that are unnecessarily treated with antibiotics. In return, this could lower farm costs, reduce milk withholding periods and save labor time.
At the time Mastaplex was being founded, the only on-farm tests for mastitis were carried out using agar plates. This method could often be labor intensive and required careful staff training to conduct the testing and interpret the results. Furthermore, these on-farm tests did not offer any information as to the antibiotic sensitivity of the bacterial strain present. Alternatively, laboratory diagnostics produce test results in three to five days – an unsatisfactory timeframe from an animal welfare perspective. This led to farmers treating all cows with antibiotics regardless of the pathogen present.
Dr Bork noted: “It was important to develop a simple test that is easy to incorporate on-farm and where the farmer doesn’t have to do any interpretation of the results themselves. We provide a solution that enables the farmer and veterinarian to simply and quickly select the right treatment plan, and the right antibiotic if needed. In many cases, they don’t need to use an antibiotic and save six or seven days of milk.”
The firm’s Mastatest is designed to rapidly pinpoint the bacterial strains that cause mastitis. The technology also enables users to understand whether an antibiotic is necessary as a treatment, as well as the specific antibiotic that is likely to be most effective in a given case. Mastaplex claims using the diagnostic test has been shown to reduce antibiotic use by 24% on average in New Zealand, with farmers reporting improved treatment effectiveness, milk quality and productivity.
A milk sample is loaded in a Mastatest cartridge, placed in a specialized incubator device (the Lapbox), and the test started – a process that takes only 30 seconds. The sample is then automatically processed in the Lapbox, which transmits images of color-changes in the sample to the cloud. Here, the firm’s algorithm analyses and interprets the results. The test results are sent to the veterinarian and the farmer at same time. The vet can establish tailored treatment protocols for different test results. The visibility of the results to the vet is a major advantage for Mastaplex over competitor products, with vets being able to incorporate the farm data into their on-farm consultations.
Dr Bork stated: “The reporting and analytics available adds value to the farmer, and importantly also to the vet in their practice. This means vets often become strong advocates for use of our system on their client’s farms.”
Mastaplex has developed two cartridges for its system. One is for detecting clinical mastitis and the other for subclinical mastitis. The latter is designed to be used for suspected cases that are highlighted through high somatic cell count and for guiding selective dry-off decisions. The firm’s patents cover the cartridge technology and the antibiotic sensitivity testing done by the biochemical assays.
The company started marketing its test in New Zealand during 2018 through local business AgriHealth. The latter distributes the technology to vets, who then sell it on to dairy farmers. Dr Bork said Mastaplex witnessed a 100% sales growth rate in its latest full year. The technology is backed by strong accuracy data collected on domestic farms, showing equivalency to laboratory testing methods.
When it first came to market, Mastaplex encountered skepticism from potential customers. This is largely due to the inaccuracy of previous mastitis testing systems. However, Dr Bork said dairy farmers and vets quickly realized the benefits of Mastatest. Around 1,000 dairy farmers in New Zealand – about 10% of the country’s industry – are now using the technology, while approximately 70% of dairy vets are supporting the system. Farmers are helping to advocate uptake of the technology, while AgriHealth is also pushing sales through key opinion leaders.
Dr Bork commented: “We need to create behavioral change, which does take time. It’s important to onboard each farmer and veterinarian to using the system so they feel confident in using it to achieve their goals. You don’t want someone to buy your hardware and it just sits in the corner collecting dust. You need to make sure they are using it. We now have momentum in our domestic markets where farmers and veterinarians who are realizing the benefits actively advocate to their peers, which makes a huge difference in new client acquisition.”
The company’s commercial approach varies by country. It introduced the test in Australia during 2019 through two large clinics, which work with veterinary groups and target corporate accounts. Mastatest was launched in France in May this year through Vetoquinol, while it is sold through several partners in the US dairy dealer channel. Dr Bork said the business has well-advanced plans to launch in the UK in Q4 2022.
Mastaplex’s sales continue to grow, doubling in the past year, and the company now has more than 2,000 client accounts. To further leverage its commercialization, the business recently closed an over-subscribed capital round that featured its first international investor – Gippsland Veterinary, which is the firm’s distributor in Australia. This was Mastaplex’s fourth fundraising tranche, as it targets what it sees as a globally premature market for on-farm diagnostics.
Dr Bork remarked: “The round gives us enough runway to demonstrate uptake in key markets, before we go out and raise a larger amount of capital next year. We’re a small but expanding company, and we believe that we’re on track to make our mark in the global marketplace.”
Analyst Contact Details: Joseph Harvey
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