Jonesboro Company Wins State Funding For Plant-Based Poultry Disease Treatment

August 12th, 2015 by Rebecca Todd

ASBTDC client GeneCoMe Biotech recently received board approval for a $49,000 Technology Development Program award from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s Division of Science and Technology to support research and development of its plant-based method for treating poultry diseases.

This award will help to bridge the funding gap between the Jonesboro-based company’s awarded U.S. Department of Agriculture Small Business Innovation Research Phase I grant and planned USDA SBIR Phase II project.

Dr. Giuliana Medrano, CSO and Principal Investigator for GeneCoMe Biotech

Dr. Giuliana Medrano

GeneCoMe’s plant-based method involves using chicken interferon-gamma (chIFN) as a natural alternative to antibiotics. Consumer demand for antibiotic-free poultry (and other meat) products continues to rise.

According to the article, “Poultry Industry’s Watershed Moment,”  in Arkansas Business’ July 20-26 issue, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention conservatively estimate that antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause 2 million illnesses and 23,000 direct deaths annually in the United States. The article quotes Christine Daugherty, vice president of sustainable food production at Tyson Foods, saying, “We know that antibiotic resistance is a global concern. What Tyson Foods is doing is essentially trying to be part of the solution to reduce antibiotic resistance.”

In order to address this customer demand, the poultry industry is examining potential alternatives to antibiotics to keep poultry healthy during the production phase. In March, McDonald’s (of which Tyson is a major chicken supplier) announced that within two years it would not serve chicken products that had been given human-use antibiotics. Tyson announced in April its goal of eliminating the use of human-use antibiotics in its broiler chicken flocks by 2017.

According to GeneCoMe’s Chief Scientific Officer and principal investigator Dr. Giuliana Medrano, the company’s TDP award will allow it to retain a talented scientist to work on this project and to seek new funding opportunities. Medrano noted, “The SBIR program has gap periods between Phase I and II where there is no funding coming from the SBIR. The TDP award will be critical to filling this gap. The TDP funding will allow continuity of our project efforts and retention of our qualified scientist.”

GeneCoMe has received positive feedback from potential customers. “Tyson is definitely very interested in using our plant-made chIFN-gamma as an alternative to antibiotics. We also are currently exploring other companies such as Sigma-Aldrich to distribute our product as a research reagent as well,” said Medrano.

When GeneCoMe decided to apply for TDP funding, the team engaged the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center for assistance in preparing its application. “I’m absolutely thankful to Rebecca Norman for helping with the development of our TDP application. She is the Arkansas expert for proposal assistance,” said Medrano.

For other innovative companies seeking supplemental research and development funding, Medrano recommends contacting the ASBTDC for help with proposal development. She also advises applying for state-level funding through AEDC, including its Technology Transfer Assistance Grant program.

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