17 January 2018 – Established in 2015, based in San Diego, with commercial operations headquartered in Indianapolis, Ascus Biosciences may well be the first endomicrobial ecology company to provide endomicrobial animal solutions as there is no other technology or product available in the market that uses combinations of novel beneficial microbes derived from the animal’s own GI system to improve gastrointestinal health and performance. The company is planning to introduce the first endomicrobial feed supplement based on endomicrobial ecology this year, following regulatory approvals in certain geographies.
Ascus says it has combined next generation sequencing methods with proprietary computational methods and other tools to illuminate the inner workings of an animal’s microbial community or often called microbiome. It is after analyzing many multitudes of animal samples through Ascus’ proprietary endomicrobial ecology technology platform that Ascus is able to identify a core set of common microbial strains that are participating in, and contributing to, the biochemical mechanisms that are vital to animal health and performance.
Ascus is working towards having a broad pipeline of all-natural, endomicrobial products for use in livestock and companion animals. “Galaxis” – the name of its first commercialised supplement for dairy cows – is expected to launch as early in the first half of 2018 in select international dairy markets.
In November 2017, Michael Seely, CEO and co-founder of Ascus, commented: “There is a tremendous demand for more natural products that help solve some of the most important problems within animal systems. We believe that identifying the right microbes from the ground up represents the next wave of innovation for our industry”.
Feedinfo News Service was able to catch up with Michael Seely and discuss the potential of endomicrobial products for animals and why Ascus is a company to look out for.
[Feedinfo News Service] Ascus has grown from humble beginnings in a Mojave Desert airplane hangar to now having – in your view – the largest animal associated microbial datasets in the world. What led you to researching and developing endomicrobial products for animals?
[Michael Seely] Ascus identifies, targets, and isolates the most useful, high-performing microbes native to an environment. Our approach to analysing microbial communities is based on a proprietary technology platform we developed that leverages next generation sequencing, flow cytometry, genomics, and computational analyses.
Three reasons led to our focus on endomicrobial products for animals.
Firstly, there is a surprising degree of microbial community homogeneity in animals. As such, Ascus is able to select and develop microbes that deliver reliable, repeatable, and significant benefits to the animal, the owner/producer, and end consumers.
Secondly, if you look at the microbes in any direct fed microbial (DFM), they are all microbes that have been used in animal nutrition for some time. These microbes are often not typically native members of the microbial community within an animal, and were sometimes discovered and adapted from other industries. Given that the microbes were not discovered and developed for use in animal health they often have unclear value because these traditional microbes have a difficult time persisting, surviving, and/or doing chemistries in the animal that benefit animal health and performance.
Finally, we believe genomics-enabled microbiological discovery will drive the next innovation wave for animal health as well as other industries. As the knowledge base around genomics increases, and our ability to cost-effectively process genomics improves, we expect a rapid acceleration of technological change.
[Feedinfo News Service] Ascus’ board of directors and partners are composed of various industry or academic veterans. Why is it important for Ascus to have such a diverse and strong group of collaborators?
[Michael Seely] At Ascus we believe that partnering with thought leaders within a specific industry will give us better products and help us make those products more applicable to the industries we are intending to serve. In the end, our employees and advisors help us discover and develop products that have great efficacy, are easy to use and that create tremendous value for our customers.
[Feedinfo News Service] Galaxis uses novel beneficial microbes derived from the dairy cow’s own GI system. Simply put, how is this “extraction” performed, and how are you then able to “convert” these microbes into a commercial product?
[Michael Seely] We always begin with the customer in mind. In dairy, we know that a higher functioning rumen is associated with a higher performing and healthier cow. In our dairy product discovery efforts, we conducted a variety of different animal models inducing controlled phenotypic changes over time across different regions, herds, and diets in the US. We collected rumen samples from animals and applied our technology platform to the rumen samples to elucidate the kaleidoscope of changes taking place across the temporal metadata, animal, and microbial community spectrums. This capability allows us to evaluate highly complex systems, identify the core organisms and groups of microbes therein, and assess and prioritize the degree of biochemical transformations occurring within this complex system. Ascus’s tools enable us to cost-effectively understand these microbial communities and target the specific native strains that are engaging in the biochemical transformations of value.
[Feedinfo News Service] Why start with ruminants?
[Michael Seely] We have products in development across all livestock species and some companion species. Early on, dairy ruminants demonstrated the most success from a scientific standpoint. The product we’re developing will deliver significant, measurable and repeatable results to dairymen. We have a robust pipeline across all major species at various stages of development.
[Feedinfo News Service] Can you provide us with an estimated timeline for the launch of Galaxis?
[Michael Seely] Galaxis will launch this year, and will be available in select countries in Central and South America. On-farm customer trials are underway in these target geographies. In 2018, we’ll continue working with other regulatory authorities to broaden the product’s availability.
[Feedinfo News Service] Besides Galaxis, what are your other promising findings? Are you close to launching another endomicrobial feed supplement for other species?
[Michael Seely] In poultry, beef cattle, swine, and horses, we’re really focused on fingerprinting the biochemical mode of action taking place and how to use native microbial species to enhance it. We believe the positive outcomes and the findings in our data will surprise many people, as we are still learning and unravelling this new microbial dimension that has a significant impact on animal nutrition and health.
[Feedinfo News Service] Moving forward, what is the potential of endomicrobial ecology in animal nutrition? What are the challenges of this science?
[Michael Seely] A microbiological wave of innovation is coming for the animal health and nutrition industry, driven by the food chain’s interest in where their food comes from. While producers have made extraordinary efforts to improve productivity, many feed supplement providers have been slow to respond with innovations that are truly novel and offer a new paradigm. Shifting from a chemistry-based mindset to technologies driven by microbiology and genomics will drive a whole new set of tools and delivery, bringing new insights, added value, production know-how, and customer value.
A challenge will be driving awareness of the microbiological dimension. Using microbial genomics to illuminate how different feed handling, management practices and farm activities affect the microbial community and an animal’s performance, will require investments to help stakeholders understand and trust these tools. Investments to understand the technical nuances of new microbes and characterize, formulate, and encapsulate microbial insights into a product will also be required.