Axitan focuses on antibiotic-free production and improving productivity

UK biotech company Axitan focuses on eliminating antibiotics from animal feed and improving productivity. It is developing a library of endolysins, and associated products, capable of targeting those pathogens that impact livestock farming historically managed through antibiotic supplements in animal feed and, in so doing, improve productivity yields. Its focus forms part of the wider WHO One Health initiative to combat the threat posed by antimicrobial resistance caused by the overuse of antibiotics, animals accounting for two thirds of the antibiotics consumed globally each year.

Dr Kane Miller
Founder & CEO

In October 2022, Axitan obtained US FDA GRAS (Generally Recognised As Safe) status for the algal biomass ingredient used in its first product, FORC3®, which promotes healthy growth in poultry by targeting the pathogen Clostridium perfringens that causes $6b of economic loss each year to the poultry industry.

We asked Axitan’s Founder and CEO, Dr Kane Miller, for detailed information about the company and its products. Dr Miller answered the questions:

Dr Miller, your company has been focusing on reducing the use of antibiotics in animals. Why is this issue so important to you?
Quite simply, the threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is real. It already accounts for over 1m human deaths a year and the World Health Organisation expects this number to increase to 10m per annum by 2050 if left unchecked.

What is less recognised outside of the livestock industry is that the majority of antibiotics (66%) are consumed by animals. As a business we are therefore focused on developing novel antibiotic alternatives that offer the potential to both manage a range of bacteria impacting livestock farming that have historically been managed through antibiotics and improve productivity.

And what is your solution or solutions to reduce antibiotics? How are these solutions being used and how do they eliminate the need for antibiotics?
Axitan uses a type of antimicrobial enzyme called an endolysin. Endolysins are unique in that they performs two functions. Firstly, they specifically bind only to the cell wall of the intended target bacterial species. Secondly, they then cut the bonds of the peptidoglycan layer causing the cell to burst and safely disintegrate.

Our endolysins are the core component of FORC3®. In terms of usage, it is like any regular feed additive in the sense that it is a dried powder mixed into the feed at the feed mill. To give a sense of quantities required, for our FORC3® Clostridium perfringens poultry product, the inclusion rate is around 0.5kg per metric tonne (or 1lb/US Ton).

In terms of performance, we have seen significant drops in mortality in challenge studies. Importantly, we are also seeing material productivity gains in key KPI criteria such as weight gain, and Feed Conversion Ratios.

You are working intensively on pathogenic bacteria such as Clostridium perfringens, which is an important problem for the poultry industry. Could you give us some information about your work on this subject and your goals?
We have developed a product called FORC3® which contains endolysins specific to Clostridium perfringens. The formulation also contains a proprietary strain of microalgae in addition to other complementary natural ingredients. The goal is to ensure we manage Clostridium perfringens whilst also working to ensure the product generates an economic uplift for the farmer, even when the bacteria isn’t causing any significant production issues.

Is your goal only to eliminate antibiotics? What are the other impacts of your solutions on the performance and health of animals?
Ultimately, yes. But for us that means we have to recognise that our products have to generate both an economic performance uplift as well as control problematic bacteria. This means they have to generate a return on investment across an entire complex, not just at a problematic farm.

Can you share some information about the ingredients/combination of the solutions you offer? Are your solutions completely natural?
Endolysins are ubiquitous in nature. For our Clostridium perfringens product, we have identified the two endolysins that best target and destroy C. perfringens strains. The endolysins have been coupled with microalgae and other natural ingredients that help to deliver the performance uplift we are seeing in our trials.

As part of your research, you also conduct many trials for your products. Can you share with us the details of some of the trials you have conducted and the results you have obtained?
Of course, in one challenge study, mortality was reduced from 14% to below 2%, statistically matching the antibiotic control. In recent field studies the FORC3® formulation has managed to obtain FCR improvements of 4 points in an NAE farm environment. We are currently running field studies with several US producers both in NAE and non NAE settings, and are looking forward to obtaining additional data.

What is the worldwide availability of the solutions you currently offer? In which regions or countries are your products available?
Whilst our current focus is in the US, we are of course keen to explore opportunities to offer our solutions to other regions. We welcome the opportunity to speak with producers, feed mills operators and other members of the value chain about brining our products to markets outside the US.

Are there any new topics you will focus on in the coming period and any new solutions you are preparing to launch?
Yes, there are two strands to our ongoing product development:
1. Branching out into different animal species
2. Looking to address other economically important bacteria in poultry.

Finally, what would you like to add?
Yes, we are rapidly evolving, so if you are reading this and think what we might be doing is of interest – whether from the perspective of JV’s, Strategic Partnerships, or being an integrator in need of non-antibiotic based solutions for managing a specific pathogen – please get in touch via our website.

About Kane Miller
Kane Miller, EngD., obtained his engineering doctorate in biochemical engineering from University College London (UCL). It was during his postdoctoral research at UCL that he conceived the idea of applying endolysin biotechnology to animal agriculture as a potential mechanism for managing pathogens. Miller subsequently authored a successful Innovate UK government grant that, coupled with private capital, initially funded the business. Axitan now operates out of two locations. Its pilot manufacturing centre is in Georgia, USA, and its HQ & R&D centre is located within the UK’s biotech “Golden Triangle”, just outside London.