Trials of a cattle vaccine and a skin test for bovine tuberculosis which could end the slaughter of thousands of animals in trying to tackle the disease have moved a step forward.

It is hoped that the combination of a CattleBCG vaccine and a skin test called Diva, which stands for detecting infected among vaccinated animals, could be used in the next few years and help to save tens of thousands of cattle.

Ongoing field trials of the combination are now moving into a new phase to assess its safety and performance, a move described by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (Apha) as “a significant milestone”.

Scientists say that if the second phase is successful, then they will be closer to being able to vaccinate cattle against the endemic disease.

These field trials will look at the safety of the CattleBCG vaccine and the safety and performance of the Diva skin test in vaccinated cattle.

More than 38,000 cattle in England and Wales were slaughtered in 2021 to tackle the disease.

The chief veterinary officers of England, Scotland and Wales have described bovine TB as “one of the most difficult animal disease challenges the world faces today”.

The first trials began in July 2021 and involved 524 animals on ten farms in England.

They focused on the safety and performance of the Diva skin test in unvaccinated animals.

The first trials were completed in May 2022 and analysis of the results is still being carried out.

Laboratory studies have so far indicated that the vaccine and Diva skin test are safe and the test performs well under controlled Apha facility environments.

The new phase is set to involve at least five farms with 600 animals, 300 of which will be vaccinated with CattleBCG while the rest will receive a placebo.

Dr Phil Hogarth, Apha’s lead scientist for TB, said: “I am pleased that we have progressed to the next phase of the field trials for a cattle vaccine and Diva skin test for bovine tuberculosis.

“This next step represents a significant milestone, building upon many years of research, and Apha will continue to be led by science, and work tirelessly in the fight to eradicate this disease.”

In a joint statement the chief veterinary officers from England, Scotland and Wales said: “Bovine TB represents one of the most difficult animal disease challenges the world faces today.

“We are making substantial progress in developing an additional tool to help eradicate this disease with the new cattle vaccine and Diva skin test – and are very grateful to the vets and farmers taking part for their efforts in making this work on the ground.

“If this next phase is successful, this project takes us one step closer to a vaccine to be used in conjunction with other measures to tackle this insidious disease which impacts livestock farmers across the globe.”

Apha will use information from the trials to back bids for marketing authorisations and international recognition.

This will help save thousands of cattle every year that would have been culled to prevent the spread of disease, according to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.