ViAqua Therapeutics has raised USD 8.25 million (EUR 7.7 million) in its latest funding round.
The Haifa, Israel-based biotechnology firm has developed an orally administered RNA-particle platform to promote and improve animal health in aquaculture. Its first product is a feed supplement to enhance resistance to viral infections including white spot syndrome virus.
S2G Ventures, which launched an ocean innovation strategy in 2021 with a plan to invest USD 100 million (EUR 84.7 million) into sustainability-oriented businesses involved in the development of products related to the seafood and marine products sectors, led the fundraising round. ViAqua was among its first five initial investments in the sector in June 2021.
“Aquaculture is critical for the sustainable supply of marine protein,” S2G Ventures’ Ocean and Seafood Fund Managing Director Kate Danaher said. “ViAqua’s platform technology will enable the company to move beyond WSSV to address numerous other diseases in aquaculture while similar technologies are still years away from reaching the market.”
The funding, which was also supplied by Rabo Ventures, The Trendlines Group, Agriline Limited, Nutreco, I-Lab Angels, and Circle Investments, enable ViAqua to bring its first product to market, invest in research and development, and “prove the platform's ability to deliver RNA-based solutions at scale.”
“Oral delivery is the holy grail of aquaculture health development due to both the impossibility of vaccinating individual shrimp and its ability to substantially bring down the operational costs of disease management while improving outcomes,” ViAqua CEO Shai Ufaz said in a press release. “We are excited to bring this technology to market to address the need for affordable disease solutions in aquaculture.”
Disease management currently costs the shrimp-farming industry around USD 8.5 billion (EUR 7.9 billion) in economic impact annually, according to an analysis from Kontali, with WSSV alone resulting in around USD 3 billion (EUR 2.8 billion) in annual losses, or the equivalent of 15 percent of global production.
“Shrimp, one of the most widely consumed seafood products globally, in particular are very susceptible to disease due to their lack of adaptive immune systems, and there are currently no products available that address shrimp disease today,” Ufaz said. “The company’s solution will provide much-needed production stability for farmers while also creating the opportunity to increase production per farm without increasing disease risk.”
ViAqua completed a previous 4.3 million (EUR 3.5 million) funding round in 2021 that attracted investment from Thai Union, Agriline, Nutreco, Visvires New Protein, The Trendlines Group, and the Technion Israel Institute of Technology The company said it has plans to begin production of its capsule product in India in early 2024 and it has established a commercial partnership through a joint development and marketing agreement with Skretting to bring the product to the market.
Rabo Ventures Investment Director Shishir Sinha said ViAqua’s delivery technology has numerous potential applications in aquaculture and beyond, giving it great potential for success.
"We are truly excited by the potential of ViAqua's technology because of the value it unlocks for the planet and the farmers,” Sinha said. “Diseases cause mortality rates of up to 50 percent, which result in 25 to 30 percent of shrimp farms failing annually. This is tremendously unproductive and hurts a lot of livelihoods. Our bank's aquaculture specialists Gorjan Nikolik and Novel Sharma were impressed by the game-changing impact potential of having a solution for an issue that has plagued the sector for decades and can make a meaningful difference in the lives of the smallholder farmers, who represent 80 percent of supply."
Photo courtesy of ViAqua