Animal health giant Nutreco and aquaculture-focused VC firm Aqua-Spark have co-led a €21 million ($24.6 million) investment into Proteon Pharmaceuticals – a Polish startup which is aiming to reduce animal agriculture’s reliance on antibiotics and slow down rising resistance to antimicrobial drugs.
Joining as a third lead investor was PFR Life Science, a specialist vehicle under the state-backed Polish Development Fund. Other participants in the round included Montis Capital, Seventure Partners, and a group of angel investors.
“The funds raised from investors will support the company’s efforts to reduce the use of antibiotics in livestock farming and to promote sustainable protein production – and ultimately, improve human health,” Proteon CEO Jarosław Dastych said in a statement.
More specifically, Proteon said the capital will be used to accelerate the commercialization and global rollout of its animal health products, which are intended as alternatives to the use of antibiotics in in aquaculture and land-based animal ag.
The Warsaw-based company is doing this by using an AI-powered platform to develop novel combinations of bacteriophages — viruses that infect bacteria — in order to protect livestock from diseases which are traditionally treated using antibiotics.
Proteon’s initial range of “bacteriophage cocktails” addresses salmonella and avian pathogenic E. coli infections in poultry production, as well as Pseudomonas and Aeromonas infections in fish farming.
Coming up next from Proteon’s pipeline are solutions for mastitis in dairy cows and acute hepatopancreatic necrosis disease (AHPND) in shrimp production.
The startup’s products are registered and commercially available in select markets in Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia.
“This investment underlines Nutreco’s commitment to our purpose of ‘feeding the future’ and to the partnership between Proteon Pharmaceuticals and Nutreco’s aquaculture division Skretting,” said Rob Kremans, CEO of Nutreco, in a statement.
“Together, Proteon Pharmaceuticals and Skretting are developing bacteriophage health products to support farmers in keeping their animals healthy without the use of antibiotics.”
Extensive usage of antibiotics in animal agriculture is contributing to a rise in antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases, rendering antimicrobial drugs used in both human and animal medicine less and less effective.
The UN’s World Health Organization describes widespread antibiotic resistance as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.” Last year, it highlighted antimicrobial resistance as one of 13 urgent global health challenges for the next decade, saying that it “threatens to send modern medicine back decades to the pre-antibiotic era, when even routine surgeries were hazardous.”
A number of food companies have made pledges to reduce their reliance on antibiotics in meat production, creating a major opportunity for startups in the space.