Touchlight Aquaculture believes it can yield next generation of fish vaccines

7th January, 2022

Established in 2020, Touchlight Aquaculture is fostering a series of DNA vaccines for various diseases in salmon. IHS Markit’s head of animal health Joseph Harvey spoke to one of the firm’s parent businesses to find out more about its pipeline progress to date and how it can contribute to aquaculture’s DNA revolution.

Touchlight Aquaculture hopes to be among a select group of businesses that can provide the next phase of vaccine innovation for the aquaculture market.

The company is a joint venture between UK business Touchlight Genetics and Swiss firm Stonehaven Incubate. It utilizes Touchlight Genetics’ DNA-based Doggybone platform to develop new vaccines exclusively in the field of aquaculture. The Doggybone name is derived from the shape of the firm’s linear, covalently closed DNA structure.

Touchlight Genetics uses the Doggybone technology for the discovery and development of human DNA-based genetic therapeutics. It claims the technology provides “a unique synthetic DNA vector system in combination with an enzymatic process, allowing for larger-scale commercial production at a significantly lower cost”.

DNA vaccines could be cost-efficient, safe and more effective immunization options for the aquaculture market. Elanco’s Clynav – for salmon pancreas disease – was the first DNA vaccine approved in Europe for any animal species in 2017. Last year, European authorities recommended a variation to the terms of the approval of Clynav regarding an extension of the product’s duration of immunity from three months after vaccination to 12 months.

Clynav has paved the way for more DNA vaccines to be developed and adopted by the aquaculture market, according to Jarne Elleholm – chief executive of Stonehaven Incubate. He said Clynav has shown it produces better efficacy than the currently available oil-adjuvanted vaccines for pancreas disease.

However, Mr Elleholm noted the aquaculture sector is not about to be flooded with multiple DNA vaccines from different companies.

He told IHS Markit Animal Health: “The market will be very concentrated form that point of view and we expect Touchlight will become one of the major players in this field across the different diseases we are targeting. You can’t just start this sort of thing from scratch. You need that human health partner with over 10 years of development work behind it and that momentum from the human side. That’s the beauty of it for us because to produce DNA in the first place and use it in a vaccine context is a huge task. That’s why it a privilege to partner with Touchlight Genetics. We needed that technical platform for our start-up. It would be impossible to make it work without that.”

Recently, Touchlight Genetics landed $125 million in funding to further grow its enzymatic DNA production capabilities for the human health market. Mr Elleholm suggested the business could become “the biggest DNA manufacturer in the world within the next five years”.


Aqua pipeline

Touchlight Aquaculture’s lead product is a vaccine against pancreas disease in salmon – a product the firm claims could be on the market in around three or four years.

Mr Elleholm said Touchlight Aquaculture has “made extremely good progress in a short period of time”. The intramuscular vaccine has secured “very strong” proof-of-concept data in a freshwater study for pancreas disease, with the lead candidate selected and ready for clinical development.

Pancreas disease is mainly prevalent in Norway, where it is a notifiable disease. It causes significant economic loss, largely due to high levels of morbidity leading to reduced growth and quality of the salmon. Despite the availability of Clynav there are still many outbreaks of the disease in Norway.

Touchlight has several additional initial product candidates in its pipeline – all targeting diseases in salmon. Over time, the business will start to focus on other aquaculture species. Currently, the start-up is seeking funding to accelerate development of its full pipeline.

Mr Elleholm remarked: “We have just reached the stage where our freshwater study for pancreas disease has shown our vaccine construct works extremely well. This evidence allows us to start building the constructs for our other target diseases and start the development programs for them.”

He also pointed out the aquaculture industry is very willing to adopt new innovation, such as vaccines or digital technologies.

“Aquaculture, as a whole, is highly industrialized,” Mr Elleholm explained. “They take the view, if there is an improvement in the way their operations are run, they are willing to try a new technology out. They have new farms being populated with fish once or twice a year, so they can easily implement new innovations on one farm or on one set of nets and see how it works out.”


Incubator end goals

The other areas of innovation Stonehaven Incubate is eyeing in the aquaculture industry include the unsolved problem of sea lice and the ability to use digital technology to benefit the efficiency of fish farms.

The creation of Touchlight Aquaculture follows the incubator’s blueprint for putting together animal health start-ups with technology derived from the human health world.

Mr Elleholm stated: “We find the innovation on the human side, we match that with our knowledge in the animal health space and we take it to the first, second or third value inflection point, which is usually proof of concept. Then at the appropriate time, we try to find a new owner for the technology that can take it all the way to the market.

“In many instances, the best home for our technology is going to be a bigger company that has the distribution network and the scientific set-up to exploit the opportunity. But we look at that on a case-by-case basis.”

In recent months, Stonehaven Incubate’s AniV8 received funding to help with development of a wearable monitor to detect osteoarthritis-related pain in pets. The incubator’s Anifera was awarded seed funding for research into the efficacy of its compound to enhance treatment for bovine mastitis. The last business to come out of Stonehaven Incubate was Vetosine, which will develop an adenosine-based disease-modifying osteoarthritis technology for animals.



Published: 14 Dec 2021 – IHS Markit | Animal Health | Headline Analysis

Analyst Contact Details: Joseph Harvey