Iowa’s leadership in corn, pork and poultry production combined with a thriving investment community and growing startup ecosystem have made it the perfect home for a new company looking to reinvent how vaccines are delivered to animals.
Mazen Animal Health Inc was founded in 2016 by chief executive officer Jenny Filbey, PhD, and chief scientific officer John Howard, PhD, to develop and commercialize oral vaccine technology for animals based on novel solutions that Howard had developed for the human health marketplace. The company’s novel vaccine platform uses corn as a biofactory for the production of recombinant vaccines.
“Oral vaccines help solve a significant challenge for livestock producers, allowing them to administer important vaccines to protect the health of animals without the labor and safety issues of injecting vaccines,” said Filbey. “By delivering vaccines through a feed source like corn, we are providing a cost-effective solution that minimizes disruption to the animal’s routine and reduces labor at the farm level.”
The company’s first product is an oral vaccine for the prevention of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV), which causes high mortality in young pigs. The vaccine is unique in that it is grown in a corn plant, then harvested grain is ground and fed to sows. In 2021, the company released results of a research study that showed that when sows were fed the corn containing the oral vaccine, the newborn pigs were protected from the PED virus.
The vaccine development is headed to efficacy studies required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Mazen is scaling up commercial manufacture of the PEDV vaccine, and pending all appropriate regulatory approvals, it expects to commercialize it in 2024.
The company’s pipeline has advanced with ongoing proof-of-concept studies for coccidiosis in poultry and scaling up a third proprietary product, also for poultry.
Funding for pipeline products and staff
Mazen closed a $12 million Series A round of funding in May 2022 to support launch of the PEDV product, development of pipeline products, addition of new products to the pipeline, as well as adding new members to the team.
The round was led by Fall Line Capital and joined by all the seed investors, including Next Level Ventures, Kent Corporation, Ag Startup Engine, Ag Ventures Alliance, ISAV and Summit Ag. In addition, new investors, AgFunder, 1330 Investments, Addison Laboratories, SLO Seeds Ventures and Cal Poly Ventures also participated in the financing.
Filbey said that one of the biggest challenges in launching the company was investment funding, especially as the company’s research and development is both in developing plant genetics and raising crops to produce the vaccine, and in the animal health sector to deliver oral vaccines to livestock and poultry.
Iowa investors and startup community deliver value
“I was introduced to Iowa investors that understood both plant and animal sectors and the value of the technology with the potential it could have for agriculture,” said Filbey. “We were excited that a group of dynamic, Iowa-based investors participated in our seed funding round in 2021 and again in our Series A round, and have provided connections and resources far beyond a financial investment as well.”
She noted that the Kent Innovation Team supported the sow study that demonstrated lactogenic immunity, and they are collaborating with Ames-based Haber Technologies to install a drying and monitoring system for harvested corn.
While the technology behind its novel vaccine platform was developed in California, Mazen now has five Iowa-based employees and is headquartered at the Iowa State University Research Park. The team now includes leads for strategy and technical development, as well as regulatory affairs, production and manufacturing.
“It has been a collaborative effort at all levels and we’ve found a great startup community in Iowa,” said Filbey. “Every meeting we go to, people are asking ‘what can we do to help?’, I’ve worked in a lot of states and that has never happened before.”
Published October 2022.