Earlier this month Novus International announced its acquisition of biotech company, Agrivida Inc. The move, which follows a two-year commercial relationship between the two companies, brings the feed additive maker into ownership of Agrivida’s proprietary INTERIUS™ technology which was developed to embed feed additives inside grain.
“Since December 2020, we’ve taken the time to understand and explore what the INTERIUS™ technology is capable of,” said Novus President and CEO Dan Meagher at the time of the announcement. “With this technology we believe we can revolutionise the feed additive industry through the expression of high-value, functional proteins inside grain, providing new products that are sustainable, both environmentally and operationally.”
In today’s Industry Perspectives, Feedinfo sits down with Alfred Zimmerman, Novus’s Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer, and R. Michael Raab, Ph.D., Agrivida’s Founder and Chief Technology Officer for a behind-the-scenes look at how the acquisition came about and what the crucial next steps are following its announcement. We also chat about the science behind the INTERIUS™ technology, its first application in corn resulting in the GRAINZYME® range of products, and what new directions the union between Novus and Agrivida will take this technology in.
[Feedinfo] Novus and Agrivida have been in a commercial and R&D partnership for the past two years. What were the steps that led to Novus’s decision to acquire Agrivida outright? What strategic purpose does it see Agrivida serving?
[Alfred Zimmerman] After receiving positive feedback and interest in the INTERIUS™ technology from our customers, along with understanding the development of proteins and the global supply chain, Novus and our owners determined the INTERIUS™ technology can revolutionise the industry by delivering high-value functional proteins through a sustainable delivery system – corn. Agrivida has been successful in bringing nutritional health additives to the industry in this way and will now represent a core innovation engine for Novus.
[Feedinfo] What does this acquisition mean for Agrivida? Will the company continue on as a Novus subsidiary or will it be fully absorbed into Novus?
[Michael Raab] Agrivida is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Novus focused on developing innovative products, which will be integrated into Novus’s go-to-market strategy. As such, Agrivida now has access to Novus infrastructure and resources to help drive innovation and development between the companies. This action also allows Agrivida to focus on technology and leverage Novus’s expertise in sales and commercialisation to deliver these technologies to market. It’s really a win-win situation for both companies.
For now, Agrivida is staffed by the same team, but we will make additional investments in the future, as necessary, to support our R&D and product development efforts.
[Feedinfo] What are the immediate priorities at both companies now that the acquisition has been announced? What will Novus and Agrivida be focusing on over the next few months as part of the process?
[Alfred Zimmerman] We’re currently working on a transition and integration plan that will align goals and priorities between the companies and streamline our efforts. This is a path to integrate capabilities and achieve efficiencies that neither company would have achieved on its own. From there the focus will be to accelerate the innovation pipeline with poultry and swine nutritional products, but also expand into ruminant nutritional products, and more broadly, into animal health solutions that are linked to nutrition and can largely be delivered through feed.
[Feedinfo] The first products created through the INTERIUS™ technology is called GRAINZYME®, which embeds enzymes in corn. How is this possible? Can you explain the science behind the technology?
[Michael Raab] The INTERIUS™ technology allows us to engineer corn and other crops to produce specific molecules aimed at optimising animal nutrition and health. In this way, we can consolidate the delivery of important health and nutritional components into the diet by using corn as a carrier.
The INTERIUS™ technology uses well-studied biological processes to deliver very specific genes into plants. These genes are designed to tell the plant – in this case, corn – how to produce a desired molecule, which can improve the nutritional availability of the diet, or directly improve the animal’s health.
Since corn is already an important feed ingredient, using it as a carrier reduces processing steps, handling and logistics, and improves the overall sustainability of animal production. With Novus, our research is focusing on developing new solutions that will further drive value throughout the animal production industry.
[Feedinfo] What has been the industry’s reaction to these products so far? How successfully were they received in launch markets?
[Alfred Zimmerman] Novus has received very positive feedback on the INTERIUS™ technology and there is interest to expand our focus into other high-value proteins like single domain antibodies, specialty enzymes, as well as stacked products. We’re also exploring direct business and supply chain models that can leverage the ability to grow corn in different locations near our customers.
[Michael Raab] One thing to remember is that the feed industry has been using these technologies for many, many years, but with only indirect benefits to producers. Indeed, nearly all corn and soybeans fed to agricultural animals are engineered. Most crops are currently engineered to help the farmer grow the crop, protecting it from pests and herbicides, and increasing yields. Through the INTERIUS™ technology, we’re taking the next step in crop engineering – improving the crop for animal producers. Users of the GRAINZYME® products currently realize lower production costs and improved performance. In the future, we will expand these offerings to help not only improve animal nutrition but also improve animal health.
[Feedinfo] So far, the INTERIUS™ technology has only focused on producing enzymes inside corn. Is the ultimate goal to do this with more feed additives? What new direction will Novus take the technology in and what new product(s) is it hoping to introduce in the market?
[Michael Raab] Yes, the ultimate goal is to deliver new, integrated, animal health and nutrition solutions for producers through corn grain. Using the INTERIUS™ technology, we envision delivering multiple feed ingredients into the diet through our engineered grain. Currently, we are working to expand our enzyme offerings in poultry, swine, and other species. We’re also examining how to deliver other high-value functional proteins like antibodies or even peptides or vaccine molecules in this sustainable way. Along with new products, we intend to work with producers to find new supply systems, such as using a corn grower near their animal production facilities.
[Feedinfo] Now some markets have very different approaches to genetically engineered products in the food chain. Is there a concern that products created through the INTERIUS™ technology might be considered genetically modified? And are you worried that this might mean they don’t make it to key markets outside the US?
[Alfred Zimmerman] Given that the INTERIUS™ technology uses the same genetic processes that are used in nearly all corn and soy products used in animal feed, we don’t have concerns about the acceptance of the products in global markets. In fact, we generally see increasing acceptance of genetically modified technologies for animal feed.
[Feedinfo] Let’s look ahead. What other new developments should be we keeping an eye out for at Novus for 2023? What about Agrivida?
[Alfred Zimmerman] Our business strategy is to establish Novus as the top provider of solutions that deliver health through nutrition for poultry and livestock around the world. In doing so, we’re becoming closer to our customers and finding new ways to help them meet their goals. Recently this has included expanding our dairy operations in Asia; publishing the book, Breeder Management & Nutrition: Moving the industry forward, which includes insight and science from key opinion leaders in different sectors of the breeder industry; and taking this next step with Agrivida.
The demand for nutritious and economical meat, eggs and dairy continue to grow. As does the desire for animal protein produced with less environmental impact and fewer pharmacological interventions. We know our current solutions – and those we’ll create through the INTERIUS™ technology – can help meet these demands and support our customers, which is our highest priority in 2023.
Published in association with Novus International, Inc.