Sundew accelerates its commercialization efforts by acquiring the Irish biotech company MicroSynbiotiX (MSX) and its algal RNA platform. At the same time, they also raise €1.4M in funding from the Yield Lab Europe and the Danish Growth Fund.
Aquaculture is the world’s fastest-growing food sector, with an estimated 250 billion USD (FAO 2020) in annual revenues. Still, farmers face a major challenge managing parasites and diseases, with finfish stock losses in excess of 9.6 billion USD per year. Many of the current products used to control pests and diseases are environmentally damaging chemicals such as formaldehyde, copper and salt. New effective, selective and environmentally benign alternatives are needed to make fish farming more sustainable. Sundew is already developing its first product, Biokos, an extract from a naturally occurring microbe, which is highly efficient at killing the important protozoan parasite ‘ich’ (freshwater fish white spot disease). Ich causes major losses in freshwater finfish in aquaculture and the ornamental sector.
Since Sundew came into BII’s Creation House program in September 2020, the development of Biokos has been a primary focus and remains a critical task. However, the recent acquisition of MicroSynbiotiX’s RNA algal platform allows the bioindustrial start-up to expand its product pipeline.
“We already have a technology platform producing microbial actives. The first product from that, Biokos, is under development for the ornamental and aquaculture market. Biokos is produced using fermentation, a production method we know very well. Adding a second technology, also based on fermentation, that uses RNA delivery via microalgae to treat water-borne pests and diseases and invasive species provides us the opportunity to expand our portfolio,” says Giovanni Salerno, CEO of Sundew.
A platform technology finding a new home
The decision to acquire MicroSynbiotiX and its algal RNA platform came after a discussion with the Irish biotech company, which were looking for a way to scale up their technology. They could see the synergy in combining with Sundew’s molecular biology and fermentation technologies and market focus. While for Sundew, the MSX platform is a perfect addition to their existing product portfolio.
“Biokos targets both freshwater and saltwater finfish, such as carp, tilapia, catfish, trout and turbot, all of them important aquaculture species. MSX’s technology allows us to also offer additional solutions for these species, as well as opening up additional markets such as shrimp and oyster farming, and aquatic invasive species”, explains Giovanni Salerno. “At the same time, it plays to many of our key technical strengths and experience in scaling up synthetic biology products and taking them through the regulatory process to market.”
Inspired by development in the agricultural sector
As is happening in agriculture, Sundew believe there is a coming shift in aquaculture and other blue economy industries towards more sustainable solutions. Future regulations will drive the sector towards less environmentally harsh approaches. Modern biology can offer such solutions through precise targeting of the relevant pest or pathogen, using transient and biodegradable products.
“Chemical solutions are often affordable and reasonably effective but have issues with toxicity for farmers and fish and can easily cause collateral damage to non-target species. Some chemicals can also persist for a long time in the environment or in the fish on your plate. As an example, formaldehyde is still widely used to treat ich in aquaculture but is dangerous to people, easy to overdose and indiscriminate in its effects. If Sundew can bring to the market new effective, affordable, environmentally friendly and safe biological products then we think this is a compelling offer, both to farmers and to society as a whole. ”