Disclosure: AFN’s parent company, AgFunder, is an investor in Mazen Animal Health.
If you’re reading AFN then you’re likely highly attuned to the many challenges facing the food and agriculture industry today, not least of which are worker shortages, the increasing costs of pretty much everything needed to run an agrifood business, and inherently tight margins.
While recent headlines have focused on the rising costs of crop-based agriculture- the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on fertilizer prices as an example — the macroeconomic situation of severe inflation and the long-lasting impacts of Covid-19, are impacting other parts of the industry too including livestock farming.
Mazen Animal Health, an Iowa-based startup, hopes to alleviate some of these challenges with its oral alternative to injectable vaccines for pigs and poultry. Administering a vaccine in animal feed is far safer for workers and requires a lot less labor than injecting each animal individually. Mazen’s technology uses plants — corn in particular — as ‘molecular farms’ to produce the protein ingredients for its vaccines, which is also a lot cheaper than the typical precision fermentation process in expensive bioreactors or more traditional vaccine production methods, according to the company.
Buoyed by the company’s progress, particularly in regard to combatting Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV), a deadly virus for newborn pigs that’s been problematic in the US since 2013, a range of investors have invested in Mazen’s $11 million Series A round of funding,
Fall Line Capital, one of the leading agriculture investment firms globally, led the round and was joined by new investors including AgFunder, 1330 Investments, Addison Laboratories, SLO Seeds Ventures, and Cal Poly Ventures. All of Mazen’s existing investors from its earlier seed round also participated, including Next Level Ventures, Kent Corporation, Ag Startup Engine, Ag Ventures Alliance, ISAV and Summit Ag.
“Our investors are seeing the tremendous potential of the technology platform to deliver better vaccines more efficiently,” said Jennifer Filbey, CEO of the company. “In fact, the technology can help achieve better animal health through disease prevention – rather than treatment – and improve economics, stewardship, and sustainability.”
Mazen is currently doing efficacy studies for the lead oral vaccine it’s developing for PEDV, studies required for approval by the USDA. It’s also using the Series A funds for scaling up its ability to manufacture the vaccine at commercial scale, while advancing a pipeline of other vaccines such as one for coccidiosis in poultry among others.
Eric O’Brien, cofounder and managing director of Fall Line Capital commented, “Mazen is at the forefront of molecular farming technologies that leverage plants as natural production factories for recombinant proteins and other high-value molecules.”