An Israeli biotechnology startup ViAqua Therapeutics Ltd. says it has developed a way to reduce disease and limit losses in the raising of shrimp and some fish.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, shrimp is the most valuable traded marine product in the world today, with the industry estimated a tens of billions of dollars a year. Shrimp production is growing at a rate of some 10 percent annually, one of the highest growth rates in aquaculture.
One of the major challenges facing the fast-growing aquaculture market is the prevention and treatment of viral diseases.
Disease in shrimp could have “devastating consequences,” the WWF says. When they become ill, they swim on the surface of the water rather than on the bottom of the production pond. The enables seagulls to swoop down, eat the diseased shrimp, and spread the illness by subsequently defecating on a pond a few miles away. There is a socioeconomic impact, including loss of employment, when shrimp farms — in China, and other developing countries like Thailand, Indonesia, India, and Bangladesh — are shut down due to disease.
ViAqua says it has developed a new feeding solution that is based on a biological formulation developed by the company that uses RNA molecules to inhibit gene expression. The coated particles, administered to the shrimp orally, trigger a cell reaction that disables the viral infections that attack shrimp and other aquaculture species.
The formulation is stable in the aquatic environment, is able to withstand barriers in the digestive system of shrimp, and can be coated onto the feed of the fish and shrimp.
The company says it has proved the concept of its oral delivery formulation and has shown that it can “silence” — or neutralize — disease-affected genes through its feed. Its know-how and technology will now help develop additional products for other shellfish and fish species, ViAcqua said.
Last week the company said that it got an investment from the strategic investment arm of Nutreco Investments BV, a global manufacturer of animal nutrition and aquafeed. Existing shareholders in the Israeli firm — Trendlines and Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology also participated in the investment round, the company said, without disclosing the amounts.
ViaAqua also signed a collaboration agreement for joint development and marketing with Nutreco’s aquaculture division, Skretting AS (“Skretting”), a manufacturer and supplier of aquaculture feeds.
The startup is a portfolio company of The Trendlines Group Ltd., an Israeli venture fund and tech accelerator firm that discovers, invests in, and incubates innovation-based medical and agricultural technologies. The company’s shares are traded on the Singapore Stock Exchange and over the counter in the US.
“The funding is intended to complete development of our first product and support tests requirements for the registration stage,” said the CEO and co-founder of ViAqua, Shai Ufaz, in a statement. “Nutreco and Skretting’s combined resources and rich knowledge of the aquafeed industry will provide ViAqua with an outstanding opportunity to develop technologies with the right fit for the market.”
Nutreco employs over 12,000 people in 32 countries with net sales of € 5.9 billion in 2017. Its two global company brands Skretting (aquafeed) and Trouw Nutrition (animal nutrition) have sales in over 90 countries.
“Preventing and treating disease, particularly viral infections, is one of the biggest challenges facing the aquaculture industry today,” said Knut Nesse, the CEO of Nutreco in the statement. “Working together with ViAqua, we will be able to offer targeted solutions to reduce and prevent disease.”