This series provides insights into the global array of companies participating in this challenge as innovators or sponsors.
The 3rd of this Spotlight Series focuses on Feedvax, one of the eight innovation finalists of this program. In the coming weeks leading to the grand Finale on the 7th of October, we will profile the other innovations and sponsors of this challenge.
Don't like to get a jab...neither do fish.
(Buenos Aires, Argentina) Business ideas often come from identifying a pain point. Luis Barletta can claim that physical scarring led to his moment of innovation.
Barletta spent most of early career as a consulting veterinarian to cattle farmers in his native Argentina and across South America. Only too aware of the hazardous nature of administering injected vaccines to livestock, Barletta became involved in a tilapia farm start-up in 2008 and was struck by the seemingly impossible task of vaccinating millions of fish against streptococcus, a common ailment they suffer from.
That was the genesis of FeedVax, an Argentine start-up that is heavily embedded in the early stages of a fast-growing tilapia farming industry in neighboring Brazil. Barletta and his team have invented an oral vaccine that can avoid the use of antibiotics in tilapia farming.
“I am scarred from vaccinating cows and I thought then: why don’t we create something medically different?” Barletta said. “But then I realized it was not cattle, it was the aquaculture sector where it was harder to vaccinate animals.”
Cattle ranching in Argentina is as old as the history of the country, and innovation moves at a slow pace. That’s not the case with Brazil’s rapidly increasing tilapia industry.
Brazil is currently the world’s fourth largest tilapia farmer with production of about 650,000 metric tons a year, but many experts predict that the South American country will glide past the million ton mark with some of the world’s best conditions for this type of aquaculture. Ironically, aquaculture has barely taken off in Argentina.
Besides abundant freshwater resources and cheap grain and oilseeds, Brazil’s multi-billion dollar poultry exporters are diversifying into mass-scale tilapia farming, meaning the industry will look distinctly different to the farms in southern China that currently export en masse to the US. Brazilian poultry giants C. Vale and Copacol have invested heavily in genetics along with Germany’s EW Group, which is one of the most established players in poultry genetics worldwide.
If Brazil gets it right, its tilapia could become a major export, besides a source of protein in the local market.
This is where FeedVax comes in. Although some manual vaccinating exists in the lucrative salmon industry, tilapia as a lower value species is too numerous to allow the process to be done via humans. Tilapia are generally only treated with antibiotics amid streptococcus outbreaks, but it’s enough to strip this aquaculture segment of a no-antibiotics-ever label.
Dr. Maximiliano Wilda, Ing. Germán Carrion, Ing. Matias lorenzo, Dr. Felicitas Lopez, Solana Pesca, DVM Juan Cruz Sereno, Dr. Federico Parra, Dr. Christian Macoretta, DVM Luis Barletta, Dr. Delfina Vuotto, Ing. Sebastian Giacossa, Dr. Gustavo Jaurena, Dr. Matias Ostrowski, Ing Agustin Alberione, Lic. Juliana Guaita, DVM Franco Masnyj, Dr. Maria Sol Bravo
FeedVax has found a 80% survival rate in most recent trials, proving the vaccine’s efficacy. The business plan was somewhat delayed by coronavirus, which has been severe in both South American countries. With some sort of normality returning through vaccination campaigns in both countries, things are getting going for FeedVax.
“FeedVax applied to The Yield Lab Asia Pacific Global Aquaculture Challenge in the hope to take the company to the next level. The company was specifically looking to review its business model, including distribution agreement and forging strategic partnerships in other countries”, Barletta said.
The Argentine company has signed an agreement with GeneSeas, a major Brazilian tilapia farmer, and is closing a deal with a global Top 10 pharmaceutical company to distribute the vaccine. FeedVax sees big pharma as a potential partner rather than a competitor in its quest to find the silver bullet solution for tilapia.
“We are very clear that MSD is not our direct competition,” Barletta said. “Our direct competitor is antibiotics.”
9 Aug 2021.
Matt Craze and Oriana Aguillon, Spheric Research.