Oral vaccine technology wins Nutreco Feed Tech Challenge

MicroSynbiotiX, an Irish start-up, has won the Nutreco Feed Tech Challenge Event with the creation of a novel method of producing oral vaccines for use in aquaculture.

The company was chosen out of 40 contestants and 10 finalists as the winner of the challenge, which was sponsored by Dutch aquafeed company Nutreco and sought to identify a “game-changer [technology] with high potential, operating in an area where few other companies are active.”

"What made MicroSynbiotiX stand out was that they have developed a high-risk, high-potential innovation,” jury chair Professor Daniel Berckmans of the University of Leuven. “Oral vaccination can be a real-game changer in managing disease outbreaks in aquaculture, contributing to a significant reduction in the use of antibiotics and a decrease of production losses. These are the innovations that can make a difference in feeding a growing world population in a sustainable way."

Originally, 40 contestants in the opening round of competition were whittled down to 10 finalists, with the final round of competition taking place 22 and 23 February. The finals consisted of several judged challenge rounds, as well as training in IP, business modeling and storytelling.

In the end, MicroSynbiotiX’s idea for using genetically modified microalgae as the delivery vehicle for oral vaccines, was chosen as the winner. The technology has the potential to change the aquaculture industry, Nutreco said in a press release.

“Disease outbreaks in aquaculture result in losses worth over 10 billion USD (EUR 9.4 billion) each year, which accounts for over five percent of global production. Currently, vaccination is done manually. This is not only cumbersome and costly, but also impractical, as it requires the fish or shrimp to be of a certain size and maturity. MicroSynbiotiX offers a new and more efficient oral vaccination method,” Nutreco said.

MicroSynbiotiX COO and co-founder Antonio Lamb said his company was “thrilled” to have won the competition.

"The on-farm validation trial is a unique opportunity to accelerate our innovation, a real 'money-cannot-buy’ opportunity,” Lamb said. “And the interaction and collaboration with Nutreco specialists, the jury members and the other start-ups was a reward in itself. That's what makes this challenge stand out from other challenges and contests we participated in."

KnipBio, a U.S. firm that has have developed a series of microbes that convert low-cost feedstock into premium nutrition, and EKO-GEA, a Slovenian company that developed a method of turning marine algae into a prebiotic, finished as the two runner-ups.

"Although we could select only one winner, there are several other promising start-ups that we are really looking forward to establish a relationship with for future collaboration," said Viggo Halseth, Nutreco’s chief innovation officer and one of the jury members.

Nutreco, which owns the aquafeed brand Skretting and the animal nutrition brand Trouw Nutrition, sells its products in more than 90 countries, and had sales of EUR 5.7 billion (USD 6 billion) in 2015.

"The beauty of the Nutreco Feed Tech Challenge is that it builds a bridge between the world of a large corporation like Nutreco, with our global network and market knowledge, and the world of young, creative thinkers that have a completely new look on the challenges of today,” Halseth said. “Linking these two is a very promising recipe for success."

The 10 finalists in the Nutreco Feed Tech Challenge 2016-2017 were:

  • MicroSynbiotiX (Ireland) has developed oral vaccines to combat diseases and infections in aquaculture using a novel method using genetically modified microalgae as the delivery vehicle.
  • KnipBio (USA) has have developed a series of microbes that will convert low-cost feedstock into premium, nutritious, single-cell proteins laden with pigment-enhancing carotenoids to produce healthier, more vibrant fish.
  • EKO GEA (Slovenia) has developed a method of freeing up all available target compounds in Ascophyllum nodosum marine algae, turning it into a versatile prebiotic tool.
  • eFishery (Indonesia) has created an integrated feeding solution for fish and shrimp farming, based on an internet-connected machine that can feed the fish automatically, sense the fish's appetite and adjust the amount of feed given with the appetite.
  • Metabolic Robots (Israel) has developed a system to optimize poultry house feed distribution enabling real-time monitoring and management to significantly improve broiler house efficiency and profits.
  • FarmControl (Portugal) has created a solution that allows farmers to monitor and control remotely in real time, any type of equipment on their farm.
  • Fodjan (Germany) has built a web platform for feed management for the livestock sector connecting the different stakeholders in feeding strategies (i.e. farmer, consultant, trader, and veterinarian), plus laboratories and feeding machinery.
  • Hexafly (Ireland) has developed a technology to produce Hermetia illucens (black soldier fly) while limiting waste to zero and developing high-value coproducts for the plant nutrition and biopolymer industry.
  • LifeBioencapsulation (Spain) has developed solutions to microencapsulate functional molecules and microorganisms in order to increase their efficacy in case of oral administration.
  • Ten Kate (The Netherlands) has created protein modifications with antimicrobial and growth enhancing properties, resulting in a healthier (young) livestock population with better growth perspectives and reduced use of antibiotics.

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