Aquaculture has the potential to meet the global demand for seafood without depleting wild fish populations. But one of the greatest challenges in aquaculture is the outbreak of disease, which can lead to high mortality rates and poor overall fish health. ViAqua Therapeutics is a biotechnology company that has developed a proprietary delivery method for RNA-based treatments to combat viral diseases in aquaculture. We are excited to announce our latest investment in ViAqua to mitigate the impact of aquaculture disease outbreaks.
Aquaculture has become increasingly crucial in meeting the growing global demand for seafood. However, the high density of fish in aquaculture systems increases the likelihood of disease transmission. According to the World Bank, disease results in an estimated economic impact of $6 billion annually for the aquaculture industry.
Disease management in fish consists of injecting each individual fish with vaccines, an expensive, labor-intensive process that is not fully effective. But for smaller farmed species such as shrimp, injecting each one individually is not feasible. Shrimps don’t have adaptive immune systems, and the only way to manage disease in shrimp is to reduce the number of shrimp per farm or to harvest them early. The mortality rate associated with viral outbreaks in shrimp can be as high as 100 percent, and the average annual loss in the Asian shrimp industry between 2009-2018 was $4 billion a year. White Spot Shrimp Virus (WSSV), in particular, is a highly contagious viral infection that has decimated farmed shrimp populations.
ViAqua has developed the first orally administered treatment that improves resistance to viral disease in shrimp, including WSSV. The encapsulated RNAi particle formulation prompts a cell reaction disabling or silencing viral infections. RNAi is a non-GMO, hormone-free supplement that is safe for aquatic species and humans. While RNA-based technologies hold a lot of promise for the future of disease prevention, they are historically challenging to employ due to the cost of production and the need for an efficient delivery method in aquatic environments. RNA is very fragile and has to be encapsulated in a way that enables it to be put through a high heat and pressure production facility, survive transportation, sit on a shelf, and make it through the animal’s digestive system so that it is released at the right time and in an effective manner.
ViAqua has cracked the code to effective oral delivery with their proprietary encapsulation technology, which protects the RNA in the aquatic environment and withstands barriers in the digestive system to deliver the RNA to the animal. Oral delivery is the ideal application for aquaculture disease prevention and presents a much easier treatment than the traditional injection method. For shrimp farmers, this means the opportunity to increase production and see the shrimp lifecycle to completion with greatly reduced concerns of a devastating loss to disease. The platform technology also enables the company to apply the solution to other diseases and aquatic species.
The total value of the global annual shrimp market is $36 billion. Fifty-five percent of the global shrimp supply is farmed, and production is growing at a rate of 10 percent annually. The Series A round led by S2G Ventures, with participation from Rabobank, will enable ViAqua to take their first product to market to address WSSV in shrimp, and develop a proof of concept for other products. The company already has a go-to-market partner in Nutreco’s aquaculture division, Skretting. ViAqua hopes to show the efficacy of its product in addressing other major shrimp diseases, prove the technology for fin fish vaccine delivery, and eventually explore the applications of the technology outside aquaculture. We are excited to continue partnering with ViAqua to transform aquaculture disease management and contribute to a more sustainable and resilient aquaculture sector.