January 5, 2021


ViAqua Therapeutics to create feed supplement for improving shrimp's resistance to white spot syndrome virus



ViAqua Therapeutics is developing a feed supplement containing encapsulated RNA that the Israeli company says can improve shrimp's resistance to white spot syndrome virus (WSSV) and other viral diseases that have led to losses amounting to billions of dollars over the years.


The orally administered, particle-based platform is produced using a bacterial fermentation process and it's free of hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified organisms. But it is not a vaccine, said Dganit Vered, who oversees business development for ViAqua Therapeutic.


"We don't have 100% efficacy but farmers using our product in their ponds will be able to keep at least 60% of their shrimp alive in the case of a viral attack," Vered told the Advocate.


The company is collaborating with Skretting and conducted testing in a laboratory in Belgium.


"The tests Skretting ran using WSSV showed we were able to generate 60% better protection than the control," Vered said. "But we know our platform can deliver solutions for diseases other than WSSV, too."


The problem with viral disease in shrimp, she added, is that while the broodstock might be clean before they arrive in a pond, if there are viral diseases present in the pond, they can have a devastating effect. "The beauty of our solution is that we incorporate our feed ingredient into the feed in small quantities and it enhances the health of the shrimp. We produce a premix and Skretting will add additional content."


Sophie Noonan, Skretting's global communications manager, confirmed the company is collaborating closely with ViAqua Therapeutics and is looking into co-development opportunities.


"ViAqua is a very promising company with very competent people, which is why Nutreco invested in ViAqua in 2018," she said. "But it's a bit too early to talk in more detail about the development in progress."


Vered said ViAqua is negotiating with contract manufacturers, will run commercial trials this year and hopes to launch its product by 2022.


Another Israeli company, TransAlgae, is hoping its solution to viral disease in aquaculture will be a dramatic game changer for the industry.


"We have identified different protein and dsRNA sequences that can trigger an immune reaction in an animal's body, and we're transcribing those sequences into an algae genome so the algae expresses that sequence," said Eyal Ronen, TransAlgae's vice president of business development.


"The beauty of this delivery system is the bioencapsulation. The algae safely transfer the molecule of interest through the digestion system without any degradation or chemical changes so it reaches the absorption area to enter the blood and trigger the appearance of antibodies."


TransAlgae has shifted production of its algae from photoreactors to bioreactors, or fermentation, and has draft agreements with companies in the animal health and crop protection sectors.


"With one company, we're expected to develop a vaccine for a virus in salmon, and for another, we're working on a virus in shrimp," he said. TransAlgae worked with Temasek Polytechnic in Singapore two years ago on trials to test the protection of sea bass from iridovirus.


"We achieved a superior percentage of survival rate and no mortality than the traditional injectable vaccine treatment for this virus," he said. "We're currently developing an oral vaccine for several targets in the aquaculture sector, and we're looking for collaborators to work with in the treatment of WSSV and YHV (yellow head virus) in shrimp."


Ronen said TransAlgae is two to three years away from having a product ready for the market. Early phases of development are complete but the company still needs to do trials and fulfill regulators' requirements.


"We're a tiny company aiming to bring the product to market," he said. "We are currently in a fundraising round led by KPMG and hoping to raise $27 to $28 million to complete the development in-house and build a formulation laboratory and a fermentation testing facility."


Ronen added: "Dismissing injectable vaccines that are time-consuming, labor-intensive and stressful for fish, and introducing something that incorporates the vaccines through the feeding system will be a game-changer for the industry. There are multiple advantages to having an oral vaccine and now that we're in the development stage, we're getting a lot of attention from the aquaculture industry."


- Global Aquaculture Alliance