Vaccinating fish through feed: Irish firm shows feasibility of microalgae platform

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© MicroSynbiotiX Ltd
© MicroSynbiotiX Ltd
Irish biotech company, MicroSynbiotiX Ltd, says it is making significant progress around proof of concept of its edible vaccine system, showing that it can use microalgae as an oral delivery platform to vaccinate farmed juvenile fish.

The Cork based firm won the Nutreco Feed Tech Challenge​ last year; its platform uses transgenic microalgae to deliver vaccines in fish and shrimp feed; it has been designed to enable fish farms to reduce the use of antibiotics.

MicroSynbiotiX cofounder and CEO, Simon Jegan Porphy, told FeedNavigator the biotech firm raised €1m of funding late last year. He said the company is now looking to go to the next level with new investment and large scale trials.

'Vaccination is a much safer and more effective way to prevent diseases by stimulating the natural immunity of the fish instead of relying on antibiotics,' ​says the Irish biotech company. 

test tube

For the most part, the existing vaccination technology for fish farming involves the use of handheld injections of individual fish, he said.

“And while there are a few oral vaccines available on the market, they have only been marginally successful. There are issues around palatability linked to those, and there have been challenges in getting suitable amounts of the vaccines into the gut of the fish. The stomach of the fish is highly acidic with enzymes that can degrade the vaccine.”

“We want to show our type of oral vaccines our palatable and we want to show that we can deliver enough antigens to give an immune response to fish. Once we show that, we can clearly say that we have a delivery platform that animal health companies can explore [in terms of vaccine] opportunities.”

Proof of concept 

Ideally, what MicroSynbiotiX wants to do is to vaccinate juvenile fish with oral vaccines, he said.

“That is what we are aiming at and that is what our objective is in establishing proof of concept.”

Investors should know it has already hit some milestones in this regard, he said. 

mircoalgal oral vaccines can be immunogenic
The Irish biotech company says it has demonstrated that microalgal oral vaccines can be immunogenic.

“We were able to vaccinate juvenile sea bass and we showed that the microalgae can survive the stomach and reach the hind gut of the fish to give an immune response.”

He said that proof of concept study, which was sponsored by both Nutreco and the Center for Aquaculture Technologies in Canada, showed the platform is useful and that it has worked. 

“Now we have to challenge a fish with a virus to show a protective immune response.

micro team
MicroSynbiotiX team © MicroSynbiotiX

“So we plan to work with animal health companies who have already spent millions on developing functional vaccines. The combination of the functional delivery platform and the vaccines should give us that protective immune response.”

Animal health companies can engage with the Irish biotech firm at an early stage of product development and then license its oral vaccine delivery platform, he said.

“We would work with them to incorporate their vaccines into our platform, help them on feed formulations, and conduct trials with them so that we can commercialize the product. That is our business model.”

Low cost vaccination model 

While farmers can justify the additional cost to vaccinate high-value fish species such as salmon, trout, or sea bass perhaps, injection vaccines are completely impractical for other high-volume, low-value fish such as tilapia, carp, or catfish or even shrimp that account for 80% of the global farmed seafood, said the firm.

“One of the key advantages of our vaccine is that it does not require cold storage, which makes it attractive for developing nations," ​said Porphy.

Initially, the company is looking at Latin America as its first launch pad, as it already has an established market for oral vaccines. “You need early adopters for such new technology. Eventually, when we get more capital, we would look to get registration with EFSA.” 

Antonio Lamb and Simon Porphy in the lab. Porphy is Indian and an biochemical engineer by training. He moved to Ireland in 2015 to work for a biotech startup. He cofounded MicroSynbiotiX with Lamb, a Swedish molecular biologist.

Porphy said the company's long term vision is also to apply the novel oral vaccine system to other farming sectors such as pig production and even, eventually, to humans.

Investment round

MicroSynbiotiX is also looking to hold a Series A investment round in 2019. It hopes to raise around €2m through that and then use the funds to conduct large-scale field trials and secure joint development agreements with animal health firms.

“We are also planning to publish our existing results in a peer reviewed publication, which should help generate interest from investors.”

The company, which was founded in 2016, has a subsidiary in San Diego, California, where cofounder, Antonio Lamb, heads of the genetic engineering side of the edible vaccine platform with four other employees.  

The Cork site, which has three employees, is involved in the product development side of the business. 

“We are funded by the Irish government. There is a lot of support for early stage companies in Ireland. Without Enterprise Ireland, we would not have got this far. Normally, in the US, a company like us would have developed as a spin off out of a university project. But we are not a spin off, we are entrepreneurs, and the technology is based on sound science."

The US site does also create some visibility for the biotech firm with larger venture capitalists, while having the base in Ireland, where many international pharmaceutical companies are headquartered, provides MicroSynbiotiX with long term access to science talent, he said. "Its the best of both worlds really."

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