Cork’s MicroSynbiotiX is swimming against the tide by vaccinating fish through feed, says Trish Dromey
With the development of a novel delivery platform for the oral immunisation of fish and shrimp stocks, Cork startup MicroSynbiotiX is aiming to help the aquaculture industry achieve a major breakthrough in the war against fish disease.
Using transgenic microalgae to deliver vaccines in fish feed, the platform has been designed to enable fish farms to reduce the use of antibiotics.
CEO and co-founder Simon Porphy says that overuse of antibiotics has been identified as a major threat to global health and points out that resistance to antibiotics has now been linked to 700,000 deaths a year.
Set up in 2016, MicroSynbiotiX is a synthetic biology company with patent pending technology which has been designed to provide an alternative to existing vaccination technology which involves the use of handheld injections of individual fish.
“This is labour intensive and expensive. The unique competitive advantage of MicroSynbiotiX’s technology is that the vaccines can be delivered through feed. As a result, this reduces the cost and improves compliance,” said Mr Porphy.
Currently working on a delivery platform for aquaculture, the company has future plans to develop the technology for use with livestock including pigs and poultry.
“Our initial proof of concept is promising and encouraging. We plan to work with large animal health companies to commercialise this technology,” he said.
But for now the focus is on aquaculture.
“This is the fastest growing food sector, worth over $200bn (€162bn) and growing annually at 6.85%. There is a demand for novel cost-effective oral delivery technology to replace handheld injections,” said Mr Porphy.
MicroSynbiotiX, which has to date raised over €1m in funding, is currently carrying out trials of its delivery system and expects to be ready to begin licensing its technology to aquaculture companies by early 2019.
An Indian biochemical engineer who had come to Ireland in 2015 to work for a biotech startup, Mr Porphy was joined in setting up the company by Swedish molecular biologist Antonio Lamb.
Sharing ideas about genetically modifying microalgae to produce vaccines, they identified the market in Asia and the Indian Ocean, which have 80% of global farmed seafood, as being the most in need of this type of solution.
Signing up to participate in the RebelBio accelerator programme in Cork, they got the company off the ground using Local Enterprise Office feasibility funding, raising some angel investment and also winning A$200,000
in the Blue Economy challenge competition. In 2017 the company also won €50,000 in the Nutrico Feed Tech Challenge.
In late 2017 MicroSynbiotiX raised €850,000, which included High Potential Start Up funding from Enterprise Ireland as well as investment from SOSV in Cork, Alimentos, The Yield Lab and the Centre for Aquaculture Technologies.
This allowed the company to recruit additional staff and it now has a total of seven
, two of them, including
— Mr Porphy and Mr Lamb who operate from lab space at the UCC Food Science Microbiology Department, and five based at a lab facility in San Diego in the US.
The funding has allowed them to complete the development of the prototype which is now being used in trials in both Norway and Canada.
“We are now gathering the data we need to interest companies in our technology,” said Mr Porphy.
In 2019 MicroSynbiotiX expects to take on a business development manager and to recruit
a total of
eight additional staff, mostly scientists who will be based in Cork.
Long-term plans include the development of vaccines for use in animals such as poultry and pigs.
“We will also look at developing functional food additives for aquaculture and agriculture industries,” he said.
In early 2019 the company is planning to raise a Series-A investment round in excess of €2m and to use the funds to conduct large-scale field trials and secure joint development agreements with larger animal health companies.
Mr Porphy says the goal over the next five years is to create a company with a value of €100m.
“Within five years we expect to have at least 25 employees who will mostly be located in Ireland and to have a turnover of €4m.”