VakSea: Oral vaccines for the aquaculture industry

The vaccines currently used require commercial fish farmers to inject each fish individually, making the process labor intensive and expensive.

Every year, disease devastates the aquaculture industry. Just one disease, Nervous Necrosis Virus (NNV), effects over 40 species of fish and results in millions of dollars of aquaculture crop loss every year.

Currently, most farmers do not have the money to be able to vaccinate their fish because of the high costs associated with delivering the vaccines. That’s where VakSea comes in.

VakSea is a company that has developed a technology that allows vaccines to be grown inside of insect larvae which, in turn, allows them to be able to deliver vaccines to fish orally.  The technology was developed at the University of Maryland Baltimore County in 2014.

“This is a major improvement over the current standards in the industry for a couple of reasons,” says Mihir Pershad, COO of VakSea. “The biggest of those is that right now each fish has to be manually injected by a person and so 70% of the cost of injecting fish is simply the labor of doing so. It makes vaccines pretty unaffordable for most species of fish.”

Oral vaccines not only makes this process easier and less burdensome for farmers but also enable farmers who historically haven’t had the money to vaccinate their fish at current prices to be able to vaccinate with our technology. This would allow farmers to protect themselves against catastrophic loss from a viral outbreak, where they often lose 80-90% of their fish or more.

The vaccine presents a number of advantages over traditional vaccination methods, which are time-consuming and costly. It can be delivered to fish up to six months younger than any other vaccine on the market. In addition, the small dosage of the vaccine required for these young fish will make the vaccine cheaper to administer and more cost-effective to produce.

VakSea is one of five companies participating in this year’s cohort of the Iowa Agritech Accelerator.

“For these first few weeks of the accelerate we’ve mainly been meeting with mentors,” said Pershad. “Just being out here in Des Moines has been really good because the understanding of what we are trying to do has been much higher out here. I think that’s largely because people understand the importance of agriculture here.”