Partnering on a solution worth more than gold to the shrimp industry

Whiteleg shrimp underwater
15 January 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. Vaccinating single individuals – as is done with salmon – would be lengthy and time consuming. “But the main reason shrimp cannot be vaccinated is because these animals lack the cells and pathways to mount a successful response to vaccines, which requires adaptive, memory-type components,” explained Christian. So, the pioneering product that ViAqua and Skretting are developing can have a huge impact on the industry – along with helping Skretting and Nutreco achieve their purpose of Feeding the Future.

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.
Erik Tveteraas, Director of Venturing, NuFrontiers

Addressing this viral challenge by boosting shrimp health

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, and Skretting provides the aquafeed nutrition expertise that is enabling the two companies to create a groundbreaking new feed aimed at keeping shrimp healthy . “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.”  The impact on the shrimp industry would be invaluable – in fact, ViAqua's edible RNA substance is literally worth more than its weight in gold. 

Partnering to build a healthier, more sustainable future

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 start-ups approach NuFrontiers directly. We also identify companies through industry events and conferences, informally through other investors, or through our own bi-annual start-up competition, the Nutreco Feed & Food Tech Challenge.” He said his team screens potential start-ups to assess if they are strategically relevant for Nutreco and a good fit with our own capabilities and innovation gaps. “If we think the company is interesting, we engage with many internal stakeholders – researchers, product managers and commercial experts – to dig deeper and decide if we think there is path forward that can result in a value-added partnership for both Nutreco and the company in question.”

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 Erik. But, he said, no company can be the best at everything all at once. “By embracing open innovation and collaborating with start-ups 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 team in India
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.
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.”
Erik 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 shrimps’ 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 Erik.

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