CRISPR technology continues to make international headlines for its potential as a gene-editing tool, but it has other world-changing applications. Scientists at Folium Science are using it to trick the harmful bacteria in the guts of chickens and hogs into destroying themselves. When fully commercialized, Folium Science’s new technology could eliminate or reduce the need for antibiotic use in the raising of farm animals.
That’s a good thing. Fighting diseases in poultry, hogs and other farm animals with standard-issue antibiotics is only marginally successful these days due to antimicrobial resistance. More importantly, most consumers don’t like the idea that antibiotic residues could end up in their food.
Ed Fuchs is the CEO and founder of Folium Science. His career includes executive positions at Aryzta AG, the publicly traded Swiss food company, and Verkade, the venerable Dutch company, where he led adoption of the first fully traceable sustainable palm oil and introduced fair trade chocolate in Europe for the Verkade brand.
His U.K.-based biotech company, which was founded in 2015, has developed a patented technology called Guided Biotics, which uses natural enzymes to selectively remove unwanted bacteria from an animal’s gut by “turning the animal’s natural defense system against itself.”
Folium is one of nine global startups chosen by Alltech, the global feed supply innovator, for its exclusive Pearse Lyons Accelerator program. The company’s technology and business plan were showcased at the 35th annual ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference held in mid-May in Lexington, Kentucky.
According to Fuchs, antibiotic resistance in livestock has risen by 300% over the last 20 years. Fuchs says that only 50% of Salmonella commonly found in poultry can be successfully treated with traditional drugs.
So, it’s no wonder that Folium has chosen to focus its first product on eradicating Salmonella from the poultry microbiome. Three recent independent in-vivo studies have conclusively proved that Folium’s technology dramatically reduces Salmonella bacteria in poultry. Next, it will be used to address common unwanted bacteria in pigs, cattle and aquaculture. Fuchs also envisions the development of treatment sprays and biocides for bacterial blights in fruit, vegetable and other staple food crops.
“Bacteria have this amazing defense system, which people know as CRISPR. It is better known as a gene-editing tool, but in nature it is the bacterium’s actual defense system. We trick it into redirecting its defenses on itself to selectively digest targeted strains of harmful bacteria and remove them from the animal’s microbiome,” Fuchs told me.Folium’s first Guided Biotics product is still 18 months away from launch, but plans are developing quickly.
Interestingly, Fuchs said every geography and animal protein group has unique issues when it comes to antimicrobial resistance.
“What we are finding is that there is a seasonal issue of Salmonella in India, but there is an all-around issue of Salmonella in America,” he said.
Initial funding for FOLIUM’s work comes from Lundbeckfonden Emerge, the investment arm of the Danish pharmaceutical giant. Fuchs said the company will likely look to raise additional capital through U.S. and European investors in the near future. Folium’s sister company SNIPR Biome ApS recently raised $50 million from a group led by Lundbeckfonden Emerge and European-based investors, LSPto take the same technology to market in human therapeutics.
But, for now, Fuchs is focused on go-to-market strategies.
“We’ve been exploring how to accelerate different elements of the business, to actually make sure we can market this successfully to the farmers and help solve antimicrobial resistance issues.”