Each year, millions of North Americans fall ill after eating chicken, thanks to a corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Campylobacter. According to AbCelex’s CEO, Dr. Babaei, the solution could lie in a quirk of camel biology.
In 1993, scientists made an intriguing discovery. Although mammals around the world have the same basic kind of antibodies, it turns out that members of the camel family also have a second type — one that is smaller, more stable and cheaper to produce.
Dr. Saeid Babaei and his business partner, Dr. Ali Riazi, saw big potential to use these antibodies or their derivatives in livestock. The pair founded AbCelex Technologies Inc., negotiated an exclusive worldwide licence from National Research Council of Canada and set to work creating small antibody fragments— so-called “nanobodies” — to inactivate Campylobacter.
Their solution can’t come soon enough. “Campylobacter is a number one cause of foodborne illness in the Western world,” explains Babaei. More than half of the raw poultry sold in the U.S. contains this disease-causing bacteria. In the U.K., it’s 65 per cent.
The AbCelex founders knew that any cost-effective treatment had to be delivered in feed. That means engineering nanobodies that can withstand the high temperatures used to process animal feed and the low pH and enzymes in the digestive system.
In the course of the last three years, AbCelex has made a tremendous progress in advancing their platform technology through the Campylobacter program in broilers. Currently, they’re developing methods to increase effectiveness of their products against various pathogenic strains of Campylobacter, as well as being able to produce high volumes of their product at low costs.
The duo couldn’t have reached this point without the support of Bioenterprise, a leading agri-business accelerator. Bioenterprise connected them to industry players, conducted market analyses and put together product costings.
Thanks in part to those efforts, AbCelex secured over $2 million in venture capital financing in April 2014. They have also secured several high-profile strategic partnerships with both academic institutions and industry partners including one of the leading poultry processors in Republic of Ireland.
The next step for AbCelex will be validating their feed additive product in clinical field trials. Already, however, Dr. Babaei has bigger plans: extending their technology to other species and other diseases, “we are aiming to build a strong company that will meet the growing global concern around the safety and quality of the food supply chain,” he says. “Every day is an opportunity.”