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Of the one billion domesticated cows globally, at any given time millions are afflicted with digital dermatitis. The disease erodes the animals’ hooves and causes raw, painful lesions that become infected, leading to lameness. In the UK alone lost milk production due to digital dermatitis costs the dairy industry some £60 million per year.
Digital dermatitis is extremely difficult to cure. Because animals often stand in slurry, bacterial exposure is constant and traditional bandages are impracticable. Vets and farmers mostly use spray-on antibiotics to protect herds. With rising antibiotic resistance, however, this is a poor strategy. Alternative antimicrobials exist, but once the treated hoof gets wet, the treatment washes away.
Now a novel product, developed in the Department of Veterinary Medicine and licensed to spin-out company NoBACZ Healthcare, promises a solution. Dr Jonathan Powell and Dr Nuno Faria, who co-founded NoBACZ, study the ways the body naturally builds and utilises mineral structures for its own benefit. Utilising their findings, they develop novel therapies and devices to treat illnesses and healthy functioning.
In late 2017 Powell and Faria approached Cambridge Enterprise with an idea. Although they had many previous patents to their names, this new idea was the first that they felt sufficiently passionate about to build into their own company.
The technology they disclosed was a robust, waterproof, and flexible ‘liquid bandage’. Motivated by Ian McCrone, a veterinary colleague, Powell and Faria envisaged an initial use for this technology in digital dermatitis. Here was a fast–drying liquid bandage that was very easily applied, required no dressing, cured despite wet conditions, repelled water and bacteria—despite being porous—and would degrade naturally over time. Made of safe components such a wound-covering could allow lesions to heal even in extreme environments.
After some development and real-life testing, Cambridge Enterprise filed a patent in 2019 to protect the technology. Using our proof-of-concept funds, we hired experts to assess the potential market and analyse the business case for creating a new company. NoBACZ was created in 2019 and, in 2020, began to develop liquid dressing-bandages, including a product designed to help tackle digital dermatitis. In May 2020, Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds invested £75,000.
Market assessment revealed areas of unmet need across the veterinary market, with the potential to also apply the technology to human wound care. The COVID-19 pandemic presented a further potential use of the technology: a surface coating to inhibit viral transmission through touch. The NoBACZ team has now been awarded InnovateUK funding to pursue this opportunity as well as funding for the veterinary product development.
NoBACZ recently completed a seed funding round of over £1 million, with investment from our Seed Funds team, Martlet Capital, Howard Group and angel investors. The company has taken an exclusive licence from Cambridge Enterprise for the background intellectual property. This is technology that has the potential to revolutionise the way that wounds are cared for in animals and humans, enhancing healing capability and sparing antibiotic usage.