The natural world unfolds

Published on December 6, 2014

Jamie Nickerson, Avivagen's Director of Product Validation, collaborates on the company's breakthrough research which is creating a safe, effective, and affordable alternative to livestock antibiotic use.

By Margaret Magner

Special to The Guardian

Canadians are well aware of the dangers posed to humans by exposing food animals to antibiotic use. Studies exploring natural solutions to improving health have long shown that people eating considerable amounts of fruits and vegetables have fewer diseases. But consuming dietary supplements containing carotenoids, thought to be the “magic” ingredient in fruits and vegetables, has demonstrated inconsistent benefits. And simply pumping more powerful antibiotics into food animals has proven troublesome.

P.E.I. BioAlliance company Avivagen Inc. is proving the “small can be powerful” perspective of the Island’s bioscience cluster is alive and well in addressing these concerns – and that animal health and human health are intrinsically linked.

Avivagen is dedicated to developing science-based natural health products for animals and the humans who care for them. “People want antibiotics out of their food items, and this demand is creating the perfect opportunity for us,” says Jamie Nickerson, Avivagen’s director of product validation, based in P.E.I..

The company, headquartered in Ottawa, is using research models developed at its Charlottetown National Research Council location to make significant inroads into the massive Asian market.

“It’s taking a great team effort to get this done,” says Avivagen CEO Cameron Groome. “Canada uses 20 million tons of livestock feed annually, but Asia is a huge market at 350 million tons. And they want to get away from the use of antibiotics.”

Focusing on natural alternatives to antibiotic use in animal feed, Avivagen is actively verifying its clinical results through applied research studies. Recent peer-reviewed articles in the American Journal of Veterinary Research, PLOS ONE, and the Canadian Journal of Chemistry validate the mechanisms of Avivagen’s fully oxidized beta-carotene -- known as OxC-beta -- with previously undiscovered actions on immune function and anti-inflammatory processes.

“No one else has a compound quite like this,” says Bill Riley, professor of food quality and safety, Jinan University, Guangzhou, China, and an Avivagen consultant. “It’s patented, and it works.”

The potential of OxC-beta in the Asian market cannot be underestimated according to Groome.

“The results of our Asian poultry and swine trials are impressive. Professor Daniel Hurnik at the Atlantic Veterinary College has done one swine study, and our Vietnamese research partners have now completed a larger, longer study. We’ve seen piglets growing 20 per cent larger with very small quantities of OxC-beta. There are good results with poultry, too. OxC-beta is proving more potent than antibiotics for these applications without the resistance and residue risks.”

Benefits to dairy cattle and aquaculture appear likely, as well.

Bill Riley shares in the excitement of these recent developments.

“OxC-beta stimulates the immune system to protect livestock against common pathogens. When animals remain healthy, they use food productively and grow to market size more quickly, which reduces cost and increases value.”

Avivagen’s breakthrough research is creating a safe, effective, and affordable alternative to livestock antibiotic use, while answering concerns of stakeholders around the world regarding the impact of antibiotic residues on human health.

Powerful polymers

Studying the chemical properties of beta-carotene which make it so beneficial to human health, Avivagen scientists in collaboration with NRC researchers in P.E.I. discovered that some benefits previously attributed to beta-carotene itself were in fact due to chemical interactions that occur when beta-carotene is exposed to oxygen. Through this process, beta-carotene, a single compound, is transformed into OxC-beta, a complex mixture of polymers.

Some of the many benefits of OxC-beta include faster responses within the immune system, increased pathogen detection power, more rapid clearing of infections, and a quicker termination of the inflammatory reactions. An animal treated with OxC-beta returns to a healthy productive state sooner.

“Think of how this helps animals in a crowded barn in a bacteria-challenged environment. They can fight off infections at an earlier stage, with animals spending less energy on immune response issues and more on growth,” says Jamie Nickerson.

In Asia, Avivagen is executing its strategy for product registration, distribution, and customer development. Important academic and institutional research partnerships have also been established as Avivagen continues to help meet the world’s food needs in the 21st century.