Avian influenza (AI) is a growing global problem. It seriously threatens the livelihood of poultry growers by killing domestic poultry such as chickens, ducks, and turkeys, etc. In the current AI outbreak in the US alone, over 58 million domestically raised chickens have been killed. This is because AI is highly adaptive and transmissive, which makes it extremely difficult to develop effective vaccines. In fact, AI vaccines are banned in the US and discouraged in global poultry trade by many countries due to unknown residue viruses in vaccinated birds.
In response to the situation, we are developing a novel antiviral poultry feed additive, FluShield. The key component in the FluShield formulation is FRIL – an antiviral protein naturally present in L. purpureus (lablab bean). FluShield is both effective and safe: our data has shown that using lablab bean extract, which contains FRIL, could neutralize high pathogenic avian strains H5N1 and H7N9 up to 100% and 96%, respectively; and since FRIL is a natural protein, the cost of sourcing raw materials and manufacturing FluShield is low.
FluShield is made possible by our patent-pending formulation that not only preserves the natural form of FRIL proteins, but also slows down the degradation and removal of FRIL in avian digestive systems. This makes FluShield distinct from a raw form such as lablab bean extract, which is not guaranteed to survive digestion in the stomach.
Administering FluShield to large groups of birds takes little modifications to current poultry operations. Many poultry growers are already mixing multiple types of feed or feed additives to enhance the nutrition and gut health of their birds. Farms could easily add FluShield to their current feed to introduce AI immunity. Through a chicken’s continued intake of our feed throughout the day, we build an all-time protection against AI for all chickens on the farm, greatly reducing the risk of any bird in the flock contracting avian flu.
FluShield delivers significant economic benefits to poultry growers around the world by protecting them against the worst-case-scenario: a complete culling of their poultry flock after being infected by avian flu. FluShield is also a sustainable solution with positive social externalities due to the network effect of AI transmission: for each avian flu event prevented, we stop any further downstream transmissions to other wild birds or other poultry farms that would have happened. We collected data on the geographic and size distribution of US poultry farms from USDA and ran an epidemic simulation, which shows that a greater number of poultry lives can be saved than the corresponding fraction of farms that are protected by FluShield. At 10% market penetration, we expect an 18% reduction in chickens culled.
These effects ultimately bring more profound societal benefits to humans. By saving just 10% of chickens affected by an outbreak of similar scale to the current one, FluShield could keep 5 million layer hens laying eggs, which translates into approximately 1 billion eggs. This helps stabilize egg prices and improves global food security.