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The Yield Lab Asia Pacific Global Aquaculture Challenge - Salmokine

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

This series provides insights into the global array of companies participating in this challenge as innovators or sponsors.

The 12th of this Spotlight Series focuses on Salmokine, one of the eight innovation finalists of this program. In the coming days leading to the grand Finale on the 7th of October, we will profile the other innovations and sponsors of this challenge.

Salmokine taps new biotech tools to beat Chile’s salmon scourge.

(Viña del Mar, Chile) The bane of Chile’s $5 billion salmon industry is a disease called salmonid rickettsial syndrome (SRS) caused by Piscirickettsia that is endemic to the Pacific coastline. Chilean producers are forced to treat SRS with antibiotics to ensure their fish survive to reach harvest weight.

The upshot is Chilean salmon sells at a discount to antibiotic free Norwegian salmon in its biggest market, the U.S. One major U.S. retailer referred to Chile’s reliance on antibiotics as a “bomb with a short fuse” as consumers become increasingly reluctant to buy food treated with antibiotics.

Banks that lend to the salmon industry and consulting firms that score companies for their environmental, social and governance standards also negatively evaluate salmon farms that use antibiotics.

The risk that its salmon could eventually be squeezed out of export markets due to negative consumer perceptions or more costly financing is no laughing matter for Chile. Salmon is the country’s No.2 export by value and is a key employer in its remote southern towns.

Salmokine Co-Founders. Left to Right: Cristian Valenzuela Ibarra (CEO), Jörn Bethke (Scientific Director)

Chilean scientists Cristian Valenzuela and Jorn Bethke were studying for their biotechnology doctorates with a specialization in fish immune systems when they sensed a massive business opportunity to apply recent breakthroughs to fight bacterial infections in the salmon industry.

Valenzuela and Bethke founded Salmokine in 2017 to develop a new product for the prevention of bacterial diseases in salmon using recombinant proteins expressed in yeast that could be used as a vaccine complement and feed supplement. Oral delivery eliminates the costly process of hand vaccinating millions of fish. They received some initial seed money from Chile’s state development agency Corfo.

"Salmokine’s solution is based on proteins from the immune system of the fish that are selected by my Co-Founder and I based on our extensive experience in fish immunology. The protein gene is then engineered for protein production in yeast." Valenzuela said.

Salmokine's recombinant protein (Innboost) produced in yeast

"The two main bacterial infections in the Chilean salmon industry today are Piscirickettsia and Tenacibaculum, responsible for almost 80% of the mortality caused by infection. The industry is forced to use antibiotics as the only way to prevent massive die-offs or weakening of the fish due to low effectiveness of vaccines against SRS and the lack of vaccines against Tenacibaculum." Bethke said.

Salmokine is conducting laboratory trials with FAV, the Chilean subsidiary of Abbott Laboratories, with promising results where they obtained 50% and 85% of relative percentages of Survival against SRS and Tenacibaculum respectively and is seeking opportunities to hold field trials at salmon farms.

Salmokine Innboost effectiveness against SRS and Tenacibaculum

"The Yield Lab Asia Pacific’s selection of the start-up as a finalist in its Global Aquaculture Challenge helped jump-start field trial talks with Salmon Sustentable that acts as an intermediary between the industry and companies." Valenzuela said.

Chile’s salmon farmers are very receptive to innovative ways of fighting SRS without antibiotics given the billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs at stake. Producers such as Mitsubishi’s Cermaq have partnered with Pharmaq, a unit of Zoetis Inc., and other pharmaceutical companies to develop new SRS vaccines.

Salmokine’s founders are seeking deep-pocketed partners, including aquaculture, pharmaceutical and fish feed companies. They hope that new funding will allow them to focus exclusively on their recombinant protein solution.

"That also would allow us in the future to extrapolate the use of our products to other species of commercial interest, such as tilapia, shrimp or others which opens up a huge field of application and opportunities." Bethke said

Producers, and their fish, are as eager as Valenzuela and Bethke to find a solution to Chilean salmon’s biggest threat.

4 Oct 2021.

Matt Craze and Oriana Aguillon, Spheric Research.



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