Skretting, ViAqua make progress in developing a solution for shrimp viral disease

Since they first joined up in 2018, the companies have been working on their first product together, an edible RNA substance to help shrimp cope with challenges linked to WSSV.

From left to right: Dr Shiva Kumar (Skretting India), Dr Raghavendrudu Gullipalli (Skretting India), Shai Ufaz (CEO ViAqua), Oded Amit (ViAqua), Christian Delannoy (Skretting AI). The photo was taken in November 2023 in India, when the group was visiting companies to discuss upscaling and implementing the product in the future. Credits: Skretting
January 15, 2024

The partnership between Skretting, Nutreco’s aquaculture feed business line, and startup ViAqua is leading to exciting progress on a groundbreaking innovation aiming to address an industry problem that today causes billions of Euros of total production loss in the shrimp industry each year.

The two companies are working on their first product together: an edible RNA substance that can be put into microcapsules – so tiny they can’t even be seen with the naked eye – and help shrimp cope with challenges linked to white spot syndrome virus (WSSV).

Viral diseases such as WSSV have plagued the shrimp industry for decades – at times almost wiping it out – and there are no effective treatment options. “The mortality rates associated with a viral outbreak can reach 100% within a few days of onset, leading to massive financial losses for shrimp producers. Diseases have resulted in an estimated 30-40% loss in global shrimp production annually,” said Christian Delannoy, global product manager health on the Skretting Innovation Shrimp team. WSSV alone causes a 15% reduction in global shrimp production each year.

While vaccination protects many other aquaculture species from disease, it’s not an option for shrimp. The pioneering product that ViAqua and Skretting are developing can have a huge impact on the industry.

A Nutreco partnership

Since they first joined up in 2018, the partnership between Skretting and ViAqua has been a great fit. ViAqua has developed a proprietary technology platform unlike anything else in aquaculture. “ViAqua’s platform uses RNA-based technology to trigger a cell reaction that silences WSSV, promoting shrimp health and welfare,” said Christian. “The uniqueness of the technology resides in the fact that it can be applied in feed through a novel encapsulation delivery method that is able to withstand adverse conditions in shrimps’ digestive systems and promote absorption.”

How did Skretting decide to work with ViAqua in the first place? Erik Tveteraas, director of venturing at Nutreco’s startup investment arm, NuFrontiers, said that they identify potential partners in a number of different ways. “In the six years we’ve operated, we have built a good reputation, so a lot of startups approach NuFrontiers directly. We also identify companies through industry events and conferences, informally through other investors, or our own bi-annual startup competition, the Nutreco Feed & Food Tech Challenge.”

They saw great potential in ViAqua, based on the uniqueness of their technology and how it could help with Feeding the Future, and determined that it was the right company to invest in and partner with. “Skretting is one of the most innovative aquafeed companies in the world, with a vast breadth of expertise and internal research capabilities,” said Tveteraas. But, he said, no company can be the best at everything all at once. “By embracing open innovation and collaborating with startups like ViAqua, Skretting can gain expertise it might never have had access to and tackle a wider variety of industry challenges and unmet needs.”

ViAqua CEO and co-founder Shai Ufaz is equally enthusiastic about the partnership. “Skretting's commitment to pioneering nutrition solutions in aquaculture is truly inspiring. Their dedication to research, development, and cutting-edge technology aligns perfectly with our own vision for a more sustainable and responsible future. This shared commitment to innovation is precisely why we chose to partner with them and together, we can unlock the full potential of aquaculture towards a healthier, and more sustainable industry.”

Tveteraas said that the collaboration has worked very well so far. “Nutreco is both a shareholder and commercial partner (through Skretting), which has proven to be a good setup for a long-term partnership based on new product development with R&D-heavy workstreams.”

So far, the technology has delivered exceptional results in R&D trials performed in renowned facilities, demonstrating that its formulation significantly improves shrimp health. “Innovations like this go beyond solving the problems of today – they are about understanding the emerging future and preparing for it, something that we are excited to be able to do with partners like ViAqua,” said Tveteraas.