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ViAqua raises $4.3 million for RNA-based feed to fight shrimp disease

Startup uses coated RNA particles, administered as a feed supplement, to trigger a cell reaction that disables viral infections in shrimp and other water species

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

An illustrative image of dried shrimp (Maurian Soares Salvador; iStock by Getty Images)
An illustrative image of dried shrimp (Maurian Soares Salvador; iStock by Getty Images)

Israeli biotech firm ViAqua Therapeutics said Thursday it had completed a $4.3 million funding round to commercialize and expand its RNA-based feeding solution to promote and improve animal health in aquaculture.

Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a polymeric molecule that is key for a variety of biological roles for the coding, decoding, regulation and the expression of genes.

ViAqua has developed a new feeding solution based on a biological formulation that uses RNA molecules. The coated RNA particles, administered as a feed supplement, trigger a cell reaction that disables viral infections that can attack shrimp and other aquaculture species by triggering the immune system.

Multinational new investors in the round include Chicago based S2G Ventures, a VC fund that focuses on multi-stage food and agriculture technologies; seafood manufacturer Thai Union; and Agriline. Earlier investors Nutreco, Visvires New Protein, The Trendlines Group and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology also participated in the current round. ViAqua was also awarded additional grant funding from the Israel Innovation Authority.

The lab of ViAcqua Therapeutics in Misgav, Israel (Courtesy)

The financing will support the commercialization of the firm’s first product, which will aims to improve the shrimps’ health by combating potentially devastating viruses, the company said in a statement.

According to the firm’s website, the total value of the global shrimp market is $36 billion, and 55% of shrimp supply is farmed. However, viral outbreaks can cause high mortality rates, leading to financial losses for shrimp producers for an estimated $6 billion and an estimated 30%-40% loss in global shrimp production annually.

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.

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 illness when they subsequently defecate on another pond. There is also 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.

“We are incredibly excited to support ViAqua in their mission to improve animal health and address aquatic diseases while minimizing environmental impact,” said Larsen Mettler, managing director at S2G Ventures Oceans and Seafood.

Historically, the challenge with RNA-based technologies includes the costs of production and efficient delivery in an aquatic environment. ViAqua said its technology is able to addresses both these challenges, through its cost-effective production process and its new capsule-based delivery method.

Shai Ufaz, CEO at ViAqua, said the funds will go to scale up production for commercialization and to expand the firm’s product pipeline “to address some of the world’s most pertinent diseases in aquaculture.”

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