Nutreco Feed Tech Challenge 2018

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VakSea - oral vaccines for aquaculture

VakSea has developed a novel oral vaccine delivery platform for aquaculture. Our oral vaccines, based on virus-like particles (VLPs), are affordable, effective, and easy to deliver. Farmers simply feed the vaccine to fish to protect them from disease. Using the same delivery platform, VakSea can rapidly and cheaply create vaccines for many other viral diseases that impact the aquaculture industry.

Our key innovation is in the insect larvae system we have developed to produce vaccines. We use the cabbage looper to produce large quantities of the desired vaccine particles by growing them inside the insects. We then harvest the insects, process them, and generate high-quality vaccines that can be formulated into a feed or delivered directly to fish. Because insects are a natural food source for many fish, our vaccines are palatable to fish and consumed rapidly. Our vaccines are delivered to fish 1-5 grams in size, fish that are 20 grams smaller than can be vaccinated by injection. Our vaccines provide lasting protection, enabling farmers to vaccinate fish in the hatchery and provide protection until they are harvested from on-growing farms. At just ⅓ the cost of existing vaccines, our oral vaccines offer affordable, effective protection against disease.

The current standard for protecting fish from viral disease is injection vaccination, which provides good, long-lasting protection. The process is as follows: fish are drugged with anaesthesia, loaded onto a conveyor belt, manually injected by a person, put back on a conveyor belt, and returned to their tanks. This process is labor intensive, expensive, and is stressful for fish. Most importantly, even though juvenile fish are most susceptible to dying from disease, injection vaccines cannot be delivered until fish are 20-35g. VakSea can deliver vaccines orally for ⅓ the cost of existing vaccines and protect fish as small as 1g.

Describe the problem your company wishes to solve and how your product or service will solve it

Disease devastates the aquaculture industry, causing $22 billion in losses globally every year. It is the #1 threat to the sustainability of aquaculture and the viability of farms. For viral diseases, there is nothing farmers can do - there is no cure. The first disease that VakSea is targeting is Viral Nervous Necrosis (VNN). VNN impacts several species important to aquaculture, including European Sea Bass, Barramundi, and grouper. In European Sea Bass alone, VNN kills $60 million worth of fish each year, but there is currently no vaccine on the market for the vast majority of affected countries and species.

VakSea has developed a platform for orally delivering effective and affordable vaccines for the aquaculture industry. With our vaccine technology, farmers can simply feed vaccines to their fish instead of having to manually inject each fish to protect them from disease. We plan to sell our vaccines to fish hatcheries, where we can protect the youngest, most vulnerable fish for ⅓ the cost of current vaccines and provide lasting protection against the catastrophic loss of disease outbreaks. We can protect fish as small as 1-5g in size, nearly 6 months younger than existing products. We project that our vaccines will cost $0.15/fish, making vaccination an affordable way to protect fish.

Thus far, we have spoken to 20 aquaculture farmers and operators of sea bass and Barramundi farms about their challenges with disease management and fish health. Every one of those farmers told us that infection of the fish is one of their greatest challenges and that it poses a persistent threat to their operations. Further, they told us that current vaccines are too expensive to be economical for many diseases and that the cost and logistical challenge of injection vaccination only exacerbates that problem. The majority told us that they viewed oral vaccines as the “holy grail” of fish health, but that they wanted to see 60-90 day challenge study results that show efficacy, as they have been burned by ineffective oral vaccines in the past.

This information was echoed by the 30+ industry experts, veterinarians, and animal health regulators we have spoken to. They told us that injection vaccines have many challenges, including morbidity and slowed growth of vaccinated fish, but that the need for a solution – however imperfect – leads farmers to continue using them. Further, they stated that fish really need to be vaccinated earlier than is currently possible with injection vaccines to protect fish when they are most likely to get sick.

Until 2017, frequent and liberal use of antibiotics was a common substitute. Starting in January 2017, however, the USDA issued new guidance limiting the use of antibiotics and requiring an independent veterinarian to diagnose the pathogen prior to prescribing a limited, short-term application of antibiotics. As such, the need for vaccines has climbed, as farmers are no longer able to use antibiotics as they once could. Further, antibiotics are not effective at treating viral diseases, and they did not resolve disease challenges caused by viruses in the past. Vaccines, both injection vaccines that are on the market and oral vaccines being developed by competitors, could be used as substitutes, though our vaccines offer several advantages as described above.

Describe other business assistance that you are seeking from Nutreco

Our next milestone is to optimize the manufacturing process to increase efficacy and drive down cost. Then we will complete a challenge study to demonstrate that our vaccine, can effectively protect European Sea Bass against Viral Nervous Necrosis. In addition to the opportunity to partner with Nutreco to conduct a challenge study, we would welcome a discussion regarding Nutreco's potential interest in partnering with VakSea to bring our product to customers. Our goal is to partner with a large animal feed manufacturer or distributor to distribute our vaccine through existing sales channels to farms and hatcheries. Further, we believe there is an opportunity to create value-added feed products, like a pre-mixed feed, that farmers can purchase to easily deliver the vaccine to their fish. Nutreco would be an ideal partner for this type of arrangement.

If that is not of interest to Nutreco, we would appreciate introductions to large European Sea Bass producers who purchase from Nutreco to discuss their specific disease challenges and how we can tailor our product to best match their needs.

Are you available to participate in the final event in the Netherlands 28, 29, and 30 May? All expenses will be covered by Nutreco


Describe how the prize - a validation trial in our facilities - could boost the development of your business

As mentioned above, completing a challenge study (i.e. validation trial) is the next key milestone for our business. We have confirmed through numerous interviews and site visits with aquaculture farmers and industry experts that viral diseases are a major, pressing problem and that the current cost (in time and money) of injection vaccines is a significant barrier to use. Successful completion of a challenge study that demonstrates the efficacy of our vaccine for European Sea Bass against Nervous Necrosis Virus would enable us to secure commercial, paying customers for field trials. We have already had discussions with 2 producers in the US who expressed strong interest in paying for a field trial of our vaccine at their production site as soon as we successfully complete a challenge study. 

If you already have a website for your business, please share the URL

We also have a brief explanatory video at

edited on Mar 30, 2018 by Mihir Pershad

teresa debesa 4 months ago

The idea has been progressed to the next milestone.

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teresa debesa 4 months ago

The idea has been progressed to the next milestone.

Reply 1

teresa debesa 4 months ago

Status label added: Full business case submitted

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Khalil Safaei 4 months ago

Very good!

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Khalil Safaei 4 months ago

Good luck!

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Mario Miranda Lavarello 4 months ago

Amazing development Vaksea team !! ...the alternative use of insects for the development of vaccines seem quite new, my congrats on this..on the other hand, all efforts to reduce the economic losses due to deseasses are welcome within the agribusiness...excellent project !!

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