Plant based feed additives producer builds the science, wins Irish innovation award

By Lynda Searby

- Last updated on GMT

Auranta receiving Irish Times New Frontiers Innovation category award © Irish Times
Auranta receiving Irish Times New Frontiers Innovation category award © Irish Times

Related tags: Polyphenols, organic acids, dairy calves, Poultry

In an increasingly ‘noisy’ antimicrobial marketplace, Irish biotech start-up Auranta, which won the New Frontiers category in the Irish Times Innovation Awards last month, found robust scientific evidence is the key to ensuring its plant extract-based additives aren’t just another ‘me too’ product.

Although Auranta co-founders, John Cullen, and, Pat Ward, first started working on plant-based additives in 2013, it wasn’t until 2018 that the AuraCalf, AuraPoultry and AuraShield brands made it to market. 

“Initially we were looking at natural extracts that could be used in soak pads to improve the shelf life of fresh meat. However, the cost of production meant this wasn’t feasible, so we started looking at feed nutrition applications for the extracts,”​ Cullen told FeedNavigator. 

Working with gut health and microbiome specialist, Prof Nicolae Corcionivosch, based at the Agriculture Food Biotech Institute in Belfast, and a group of Thai vets, Auranta started developing and testing products designed to help combat the issue of antibiotic resistance. 

“We discovered that there was a synergistic effect by combining specific natural ingredients. As single components they don’t show significant improvements, but when formulated as an eubiotic, they allow the animal to improve its gut health and fight off infection," ​said Cullen.

Science too soft​ 

However, Auranta’s initial attempts to market the additives met with a lukewarm response. 

“We soon discovered that we were a ‘me too’ product in a noisy marketplace. With very little scientific evidence to back it up, our product was no different to the plethora of other antimicrobial solutions on offer,” ​said Cullen. 

This realization prompted Auranta to temporarily park its sales efforts and seek the backing of private investors to finance some scientific studies and trials. 

The company now has five peer-reviewed studies, including in vivo​ trials with dairy calves and poultry, under its belt. 

“These studies have lent credence to claims that our products enhance animal gut health so that it can better fight off infection itself – without the use of antibiotics. Auranta products are nutritional products and we make no claims of therapeutic treatment,” ​said Cullen.

As to the mode of action, the technology is thought to reduce the motility of pathogens as a result of down-regulation of certain genes. This enables Auranta to reduce the invasiveness of the bacteria and protect the host cells against infection and colonization. 

Global growth strategy

Equipped with this evidence, in 2018, Auranta re-launched. It is now selling its products in 10 countries worldwide and is currently in the process of appointing distributors in a further 12. Target markets include Thailand, Vietnam, Mozambique, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, Turkey, Ireland, the UK, the Benelux, Germany, Scandinavia, Italy, Russia and the Baltics. 

Cullen said that, in Europe, the main interest is in its AuraCalf product for calves, whilst outside Europe, the focus is on AuraShield and AuraPoultry. 

Since the start of the venture, Auranta has been working with an Irish contract manufacturing partner, an arrangement that offers plenty of potential for scaling-up volumes, according to Cullen. 

“This year we will have sold around 100 metric tons, which equates to €1m in turnover terms. Our aim is to double that next year, and reach 1,000 tons within the next 3-4 years,” ​said Cullen. 

“Our growth strategy is to achieve greater penetration in the markets where we are already present. We are also taking on some additional investment to allow us to put in place a full sales and marketing team to support our distributor network,” ​he added. 

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