New start-up Animab wants to reduce antibiotic use in piglets


Animab, a venture spin-off from VIB, announces today that it has  successfully concluded a 3.4 M€ seed financing round.  The company develops monoclonal antibodies for oral administration to ensure intestinal health of livestock.  The initial focus is on improving the resilience of piglets during the fragile post-weaning period.  The start-up will use the seed capital to develop its first oral antibody produduct for protection against ETEC and initiate a product portfolio for the livestock industry.

Animab builds on a proprietary platform technology enabling efficient generation of monoclonal antibodies to prevent intestinal infections in animal production.  This new class of orally administered antibodies is designed to improve the health and performance of animals by targeting specific disease-causing pathogens.

The monoclonal antibody platform is based on the cross-disciplinary research and expertise within VIB, the leading life sciences research institute based in Flanders, Ghent University and Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB).  Animab’s proprietary antibodies mimic secretory IgA, a type of natural antibodies passed on via the colostrum and milk.  In a collaborative effort by VIB and the Ghent University Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, these antibodies were further improved and tailored to target specific intestinal pathogens in livestock with speed and precision, without altering the healthy microbiome.  Animab will continue to collaborate with these top academic research groups to expand the high precision biologic toolbox for protection of young animals.

The first monoclonal antibody lead product is designed specifically for pig production.  Post-weaning diahrrhea caused by enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) is an economically important disease in pig production worldwide.  Young piglets are very susceptible to this infection, resulting in a morbidity ranging between 25 to 50% in Europe.  Animab’s lead product will provide the swine producers with an alternative to antibiotics for the control of gastrointestinal pathogens, contributing to a more sustainable animal production.

Although the company will initially focus on ETEC protection in piglets, it will rapidly expand its pipeline with new product opportunities that target bacteria, viruses and host factors in livestock animals, spanning a range of gastrointestinal indications.

The firm is led by seasoned business strategist Alain Wille, leveraging more than 25 years of animal health expierence, including leadership positions at Boehringer Ingelheim and Merial.  He is joined by scientific director Vikram Virdi, whose PhD laid the groundwork for 11 years of research on edible antibodies that form the solid scientif framework of Animab.  Nesya Goris completes the management team as technical and regulatory director and brings more than 10 years of cutting-edge technology development experience to the firm.  She combines her role at Animab with the chief development officer function at ViroVet.  Chairman of the board is former CEO and co-owner of the Nuscience group Patrick Keereman.  Under his wings, the Belgian animal nutrition company Nuscience has transformed into a multi-product global player.  Animab’s chairman brings decades of industry knowledge and executive experience that will help guide and grow the new venture.  Together, the team has a wealth of knowledge and proven track records in the animal science field.

Animab is backed by a solid European investor consortium who invested 3.4 M€ in a seed round led by Seventure Partners and PMV, and with the participation of Agri Investment Fund, V-Bio Ventures and VIB.  The ambition of the investor consortium is to further support the growth of the company through future financing rounds, allowing it to bring this innovative concept to the market as a commercial product.

Commenting on the announcement, CEO Alain Wille says: “The mission of Animab is to design and bring to the market cost-effective solutions that ultimately benefit animals, producers and consumers.  Clearly, our first product embodies that goal as it targets widespread pathogenic intestinal bacteria in pigs.  Additionally, reducing the need to use antibiotics in animal production is also good for people and society.”

Nico Callewaert (VIB-Ghent University), one of the scientific founders, explains: “Together with the labs of profs Ann Depicker (VIB-Ghent University), Henri De Greve (VIB-VUB) and Eric Cox (Ghent University), our cross-disciplinary science teams collaborated intensely to develop a new antibody technology designed for oral ingestion, set up a scalable, cost-effective microbial production process, and demonstrate that they can protect piglets against ETEC infection.  It is very rewarding to see that our scientific discoveries will now be translated by Animab into market-ready products.”

Laëtitia Gerbe (Seventure Partners) and Kenneth Wils (PMV) also mention that “it is clear that the technology has potential to bring about a disruptive change in the animal production.  E. coli is a highly prevalent pathogen causing disease in swine production without effective non-antibiotic control options.  We are proud to support Animab whose management has the necessary expertise and vision to provide the industry with a totally new range of solutions.”

Jérôme Van Biervliet, managing director of VIB, adds: “We are thrilled to announce our newest spin-off Animab, adding a new player to the growing animal health start-up ecosystem.  By moving VIB innovations beyond human health, we recognize the importance of the one health approach, as the health of people, animals and the environment are all interconnected.”

Animab will use the raised funds to develop its first product against ETEC and launch a portfolio of new products for livestock.