Indiana-based Elanco Animal Health Inc. and North Carolina-based AgBiome, Inc. announced the collaboration on Thursday [June 27].
AgBiome is a biotechnology company focused on collecting and examining microbial populations for traits relevant to crop production or protection.
The collaboration with Elanco seeks to combine AgBiome’s microbial strain library and knowledge with Elanco’s work in animal health and interest in reducing the reliance on antibiotics in livestock production, the companies said. The research and development project is focused on probiotic products to address swine gut health challenges.
The two companies are set to work on a multi-year project developing products for swine with a focus on gut health, said Dan Tomso, CSO with AgBiome. Work on the early stages of the project has already started.
“AgBiome, for almost 7 years now, has been developing a really large collection of microbes and microbial genome sequences and all the data science tools that you would use to explore that and really investing in screening through that collection,” he told FeedNavigator. “We always believed, and still do believe, that there are uses for that collection outside of crop agriculture – animal health, in particular, was an area where we think there is some good logical crossover.”
There also was an interesting overlap between the microbiome and gut health, he added.
A shared interest in using science to improve production was one element that supports the collaboration, said Tomso. Adding, “We’re all pretty driven by this idea that feeding the world is one of those important tasks and it’s a task that really benefits from scientific endeavor – there’s lots of space to make that happen in a more sustainable and better way, [and] the idea of moving to animal health is nicely within that purpose and drive.”
“We were really struck by how entrepreneurial-minded they were and how eager they were to use science to make an impact,” he said of the work with Elanco. “The technology we had built and their drive to make products in their space worked really well.”
Developing new products or tools to influence an animal’s microbiome, limit gut inflammation and manage infections while reducing the reliance on medically-important antibiotics is Elanco’s “top priority,” said Aaron Schacht, executive vice president of innovation, regulatory and business development at Elanco.
Building a microbial library and developing new products
AgBiome has focused much of its work on crop science, said Tomso. But it also has established a continually growing library of microbial strains, which are genetically sequenced.
“These are not just skin sequences or marker genes, this is the whole genome for all these organisms and that gives us a lot of power – we can see relationships between microbes that you have no other way to identify,” he said. “In order to do that, we invested a whole lot of time and effort into creating some very sophisticated data science tools that let us look through the collection in a really interesting and efficient way to find new actives.”
“That’s kind of the structure that we would build a discovery program on,” he added.
The development process includes creating a screen to help identify microbes with characteristics of interest to the specific project, Tomso said. Adding, “We’ll start mining through the collection and using our unique power with microbial genomics to identify leads and those leads are the basis for making products under the partnership.”
“There was a really nice intersection of the resource we had built, the kinds of product challenges that were out there in the animal health space and the kind of foundational science that had been emerging in the last few years,” he said. “It was kind of a technical fit and a vision fit.”