How one P.E.I. company is using chickens to try to detect COVID-19 in humans

Reprinted from CBC Prince Edward Island. The story was also featured on CBC Compass evening TV news program.

A Charlottetown biotech company has joined the fight against COVID-19 by creating antibodies that could help detect the presence of the virus in humans.

The COVID-19 virus has spike proteins on it. Those spikes are used by the virus to attach to human cells.

A company in China created a synthetic replica of those spike proteins in early February. Jon Zuccolo, founder and CEO of AffinityImmuno, reached out to that company and asked for the synthetic protein.

“The protein itself is fully synthetic.… It’s not isolated from the virus itself,” he said.”I requested some for testing thinking that it would be a potentially interesting project in the future, not realizing that it was going to become sort of all-encompassing for many companies around the globe.”

‘Pretty non-invasive’

​​Zuccolo began putting those synthetic spikes into chickens. As the chickens react to them, they create antibodies to fight them. Then, Zuccolo collects eggs from the chicken and takes the antibodies out of them.

“It’s a pretty non-invasive, hands-off approach to making antibodies very quickly,” he said.

Zuccolo compared the results from his chickens with other companies from around the world to make sure that his antibodies matched ones created by the actual virus.

“I tested these antibodies in early March and found that the hens actually did produce a very strong antibody response against a synthetic viral protein,” he said.

And then as the COVID-19 situation progressed globally, there was a big push for research into the virus, said Zuccolo.”I found myself kind of at the centre of attention from really hundreds of companies around the globe looking to test my antibodies in their different applications,” he said.

Antibodies react to COVID-19

Zuccolo is giving those antibodies to an international group of companies that is working on developing a rapid test for COVID-19.

“These are chicken proteins that will stick very efficiently to the virus or viral proteins,” said Zuccolo. “As such they can be used as a sort of probe in generating what’s called a rapid test, or point-of-care test.”

Zuccolo said it could produce a result in about five to 10 minutes.

“So this would be a testing methodology that you could do sort of on-site very quickly.”

Similar to the current COVID-19 test, this would also involve taking a sample from the back of a person’s throat and putting it into a test that resembles a pregnancy test. Those chicken antibodies react with the COVID-19 virus in that fluid, said Zuccolo.

“As it stands now one line would indicate that it’s negative for coronavirus or COVID-19 and two lines would indicate that it’s positive,” he said.

He said before it arrives on the market, it needs to be approved by Health Canada.

Test for past exposure

He said he’s also starting to think about applying the technology to a test for those who may have been exposed to COVID-19, and not know it.

Because those chicken antibodies are similar to the ones that are created by a human to fight COVID-19, Zuccolo said he can use them to determine if someone had ever been exposed to the virus.

If they hadn’t been exposed, they wouldn’t have those antibodies present.

“So it’s really just to test whether a person has come in contact with the COVID-19 virus in the past,” he said.Now, Zuccolo has started to expand his operation, adding more hens to his flock to supply the consortium with more antibodies as well as hiring more employees.”It’s exciting, actually really exciting. I’ve got a lot of support from scientists that I know and work with, as well as just people that just reached out and said, ‘You know, anything you want to work on let me know,'” he said.”I’m very happy to be part of it.”

Posted in Clients, COVID-19 News

Emergence Companies respond to the COVID-19 challenge

As essential service staff work long hours and families distance themselves from others by hunkering down in their homes, bioscience companies and their employees are flexing their research, development and manufacturing muscle to help in the fight against COVID-19.

Seven Emergence companies are developing products to strengthen human resistance to diseases, hand sanitizer, technologies to test if someone is or has been infected by COVID-19, and technologies to give specialists an online view for remote diagnoses.

AffinityImmuno in Charlottetown is part of an international consortium currently testing a rapid diagnostic test to screen for the virus in bodily fluids. Additionally, AffinityImmuno is developing a lab test to identify biomarkers that indicate protection against infection or reinfection by COVID-19.

BioSpa – Quannessence Skincare has created QuannShield, a pocket-sized hand sanitizer that’s a Health Canada-compliant sanitizing spray. Recognizing that hand sanitizers can lead to dry hands, Quannessence has included in its formulation, skin-hydrating characteristics making the product unique compared to other sanitizers. Their products are available in Murphy’s Pharmacies across PEI, and from the soon-to-be online store

Avivagen is better known for its animal health technologies, such as its OxC Beta supplement that boosts immunity and reduces inflammation in livestock and companion animals, minimizing the need for antibiotic use. Now, Avivagen is evaluating OxC Beta’s potential to boost the human immune system and help people afflicted by respiratory problems from lung inflammation due to COVID-19 or other illnesses.

Fieldetect Inc, co-founded by UPEI professors, recently received $355K from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) to modify its handheld LabAnywhere technology for the COVID-19 cause. Initially designed to quickly detect viruses in animals, the Fieldetect technology shows promise for testing viruses like COVID-19 in humans.

Somru BioScience is drawing on its antibody platform technology to assist in developing therapeutic and diagnostic solutions for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Their experience in immunoassay development will enable them to provide diagnostic and research solutions for future infectious disease outbreaks. Somru’s plans include shortening the development time of diagnostic kits for future infectious diseases by 50 percent.

TerraVerdae Bioworks in is leveraging its core capabilities in functional biomaterials and bioactives to develop enhanced antiviral protection products for front line workers working in infectious disease response.

VetNOW‘s telemedicine technology has received new prominence under pandemic conditions, allowing local veterinarians to reach veterinary specialists at a distance through their online platform, providing improved care for food animals and companion animals. A new partnership with Elanco Animal Health has made the VetNOW’s technology available for free for two months for veterinarians who enroll in Canada and the United States.

We can be proud of the collective efforts of the Emergency community in helping Canadians get through the current COVID-19 situation and better preparing us to prevent and respond to future infectious disease outbreaks.

Posted in Clients, News

CATC acquires research facility

Emergence client Center for Aquaculture Technologies (CAT) has finalized a deal with Elanco Animal Health Incorporated to acquire a 46,000 square foot aquatic animal research facility in Victoria, Prince Edward Island. The acquisition, which includes expansive, purpose-built, wet and dry lab space, is an exciting step as CAT grows its reputation as a globally recognized Health and Nutrition Contract Research Organization. The addition of the Victoria facility will triple the company’s Canadian footprint and expand the already best-in-class research services in Health and Nutrition, allowing the company to double the number of research trials conducted on an annual basis.

CAT Chief Executive Officer, Dr. John Buchanan confirmed that the transaction with Elanco was closed earlier today. “We are experiencing exciting growth in our aquaculture Health and Nutrition Research Services business and have immediate plans for use of the facility.” said Buchanan, “Expanding our footprint will allow our team to meet the demands of the global aquaculture community on a larger scale. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to expand our offerings and add to our world-class team.”

Adding to the extensive experience of the existing Canadian team, Dr. Jason Cleaversmith has been hired as Vice President of Health and Nutrition and General Manager of Canadian Operations. He brings more than 17 years of experience in aquaculture management and will oversee operations at the new facility .”The Victoria site has a long history of setting the gold standard for pivotal regulatory trials and innovation, and CAT is fortunate to have been able to acquire this state- of- the- art facility, along with several staff who are well versed in operating in a quality centric, highly regulated environment. This is a timely and exciting addition to the CAT facility network” said Cleaversmith.

With the addition of the new facility, the only other privately held Aquatic Animal Pathogen Containment level 3 (AQC3/BSL3) certified lab space in Canada, CAT will oversee the largest amount of AQC3 certified square footage in the world, enabling the company to scale its research activities involving domestic and imported aquatic animals, and aquatic animal pathogens. The Victoria site will operate in addition to the CAT Research Aquarium and Labs in Souris, PEI and San Diego, California. The Government of Prince Edward Island will support the project with a repayable loan of $4 million from the PEI Century Fund. “The Center for Aquaculture Technologies provides vital research and development for the aquaculture industry in our province,” said Minister of Economic Growth, Tourism and Culture Matthew MacKay. “We are proud to support CAT’s expansion, that will keep jobs in the community.”

The CAT team specializes in collaborative and contract research services, working with clients worldwide to develop customized solutions to improve productivity, efficiency, and sustainability in the
aquaculture industry. In addition to expertise in Fish Health and Nutrition, CAT’s skilled team of researchers in Canada, and the US, offer specialized and custom services in the fields of Genotyping, Diagnostics, Breeding, Genomics, and Molecular Biology.

The Center for Aquaculture Technologies is an R&D and contract service organization focused on the application of biotechnologies to improve productivity, efficiency, and sustainability in aquaculture and related industries. The company combines extensive experience in aquaculture with a strong background in cellular and molecular technologies to provide research-based solutions. Find us at

Posted in Uncategorized

Dr. Gordon’s Bum Cream company chosen to join Accelerate Program

Dr. Gordon’s Bum Cream company has been chosen to participate in Praxis Spinal Cord Institute’s Praxis SCI Accelerate Program, a 12-week acceleration pilot program for health start-up companies with solutions that address care- and cure-related treatments and overall quality of life of individuals with SCI.

Five companies were carefully selected by a panel of spinal cord injury (SCI) consumers, researchers, commercial leaders in healthcare—as addressing key challenges for people with SCI, but also with a potential to transform healthcare outcomes for the broader community. Meet the Praxis SCI Accelerate 2020 Cohort

Praxis Spinal Cord Institute is a Canadian-based not-for-profit organization that leads global collaboration in spinal cord injury research, innovation and care. Their Commercialization program is focused on accelerating innovations including medical devices and diagnostics that can improve the lives of people living with SCI. More about the Praxis SCI Accelerate Program here.

Posted in Clients

Because Animals wins Innovation Prize at Global Pet Expo

Founders Joshua Errett and Shannon Falconer

Emergent client Because Animals had a big win at Global Pet Expo. They were awarded the grand award of the 2020 Purina Pet Care Innovation Prize for their cultured meat technology. As a grand prize winner, Because Animals will receive a cash prize and mentorship from Purina.

“This is a validating win as it proves we are on the right track in terms of the future of pet food and meat production. It was only three years ago that we first attended the Global Pet Expo and could barely get a meeting. Now one of the biggest pet food companies in the world, Nestlé Purina, has recognized our work.” – Shannon and Joshua

About the prize: The Pet Care Innovation Prize is a collaborative effort of Purina’s 9 Square Ventures division and investing leaders Active Capital to support and connect with early stage pet care startups that are currently in market with an innovative business addressing pet and pet owner needs in the areas of pet health and wellness, services, technology, and food, treats or litter.

Full press release here.

Posted in Uncategorized

Fieldetect gets $355K to adapt technology to detect COVID-19

Dr. William Whelan and Dr. Andrew Trivett

A research team led by the University of Prince Edward Island has been awarded a research grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to adapt a hand-held, portable technology to detect whether someone carries the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. The research team is co-led by Dr. William Whelan (Physics, UPEI) and Dr. Andrew Trivett (Sustainable Design Engineering, UPEI) and includes Dr. Marya Ahmed (Chemistry, UPEI), Dr. Javier Sanchez and Dr. Dan Hurnik (Atlantic Veterinary College, UPEI), Dr. Solke De Boer (Canadian Food Inspection Agency, retired), and Dr. Mark Redmond (PEI BioAlliance).

The patent-pending technology was developed by UPEI researchers for the detection of viruses in farm animals. Current methods to detect viruses require trained technicians to process samples in a central testing lab. The UPEI technology was developed to allow biological samples to be literally analysed anywhere—in a barn, field, or on a tractor—without pristine laboratory conditions. The researchers will apply this rugged LabAnywhere™ technology to detecting human diseases.

Since the call went out for applications to CIHR’s Rapid Call for Coronavirus Research, COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The global need for reliable, rapidly deployable detection methods is more important than ever.

“We began developing this technology several years ago with the goal of helping farmers manage livestock and crop diseases better,” said Dr. Trivett. “We are really excited to see our work enter the fight against this new threat to our communities.”

“When we were notified of the award, I was in self-isolation, after being tested for COVID-19,” said Dr. Whelan. “I received my test result, which was negative, two days later. With this funding, we will work hard to deliver an on-site, rapid test for coronaviruses, with results in an hour.”

The research project will use easily handled, safe viruses from the animal world for initial testing to validate the methods and move to tests using human viruses once initial trials are complete. With support from Synapse, Innovation PEI, the PEI BioAlliance, and SpringBoard Atlantic, the inventors have created a spin-out company, Fieldetect Inc. to commercialize the technology.

Dr. Kathy Gottschall-Pass, UPEI’s Interim Vice-President Academic and Research said, “COVID-19 is an unprecedented global public health risk. We are thankful to CIHR for expanding this important funding to allow our interdisciplinary research and development team at UPEI to test this diagnostic technology that will have an impact around the world.”

This project is one of 96 across the country funded by the Government of Canada in rapid response to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“The outbreak of COVID-19 evolves quickly, and protecting the health of Canadians is our priority,” said the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health. “The additional teams of researchers receiving funding today will help Canada quickly generate the evidence we need to contribute to the global understanding of the COVID-19 illness. Their essential work will contribute to the development of effective vaccines, diagnostics, treatments, and public health responses.”

This research has been supported from its earliest days by Synapse and its partners in the Springboard Atlantic Network, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and Innovation PEI. Synapse is UPEI’s independently incorporated commercialization, technology transfer, and industry-engagement company, created to develop stronger links between UPEI research and industry sectors, to encourage exciting new levels of idea generation, technology evaluation, technology transfer, commercialization, and spin-off company formation.

Since mid-2018, the Fieldetect Inc. team has benefitted from commercialization coaching by industry and regulatory experts at Emergence Bio-Business Incubator. Operated by the Prince Edward Island BioAlliance, Emergence pairs its clients with mentors who have a proven track record in related fields, and provides services designed to help companies like Fieldetect Inc. succeed in getting their products to market.

Posted in Clients

Webinar: Learn more about Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster (NGen)

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SomaDetect and Valley Agricultural Software Announce API Integration

SomaDetect, a precision dairy technology company, and Valley Agricultural Software (VAS), the world’s largest provider of dairy management software, announced today that VAS’s Software API will be integrated into SomaDetect’s data system.

The integration of VAS’s API with the SomaDetect system will enable SomaDetect’s software to synchronize with any milking equipment using VAS’s dairy herd management software, DairyComp.

As a result, dairy farmers using DairyComp can take advantage of SomaDetect’s technology without needing to replace their existing cow identification systems. Cow identification is a critical component to track individual cow health management.

“We are excited about this integration with VAS, and the support they have shown towards the advancement of our technology. We feel incredibly fortunate to be working with VAS and supporting leading-edge changes in this industry. We are supporting dairy as it moves into a new era of data generation, management, integration, collaboration, and insight development that will improve efficiencies and increase profitability for producers,” said Bethany Deshpande, CEO of SomaDetect.

Founded in New Brunswick, Canada in 2016, SomaDetect has produced a sensor with the capacity to provide farmers with daily information from individual cows. This unprecedented technology captures a variety of critical herd management, cow health and reproductive, and milk quality data per cow and per milking.

This requires SomaDetect data to be associated with the correct cow in the milking parlor. The integration enables automatic transfer of milking identification system data to SomaDetect’s system so that SomaDetect algorithms can be linked to the correct cow.

SomaDetect is currently focused on building commercial algorithms to provide data on somatic cell counts and pregnancy status, and will then increase data offerings to enable farmers to identify disease, eliminate contamination, manage reproduction, and increase milk quality.

“VAS is dedicated to being a collaborator in the industry and working closely with fellow innovators. We are excited to launch our integration with SomaDetect and help our dairies bring more insight to their operations by pairing important animal information with data from every cow at every milking session. We are proud to continually be part of the modernization of the dairy industry and learn how to help our customers improve their operations.” – Kevin Callihan, VP of Engineering & Product at VAS

Posted in Clients, News

Applications now Open: AMGEN BIONATION Regenerative Medicine Innovation Challenge 2020

The Business of Biotech is Calling. Regenerative medicine has the potential to heal or replace tissues and organs damaged by disease, trauma, or normalize congenital defects. The field of regenerative medicine encompasses numerous strategies, including the use of materials and de novo generated cells, as well as various combinations thereof, to take the place of missing tissue, effectively replacing it both structurally and functionally, or to contribute to tissue healing.

The top proposals will make a pitch presentation of 6 minutes to a panel of esteemed investment judges at BIONATION 2020. The winner will be awarded:

  • $15K Canadian from Amgen
  • 18 hours mentoring from Amgen for the year
  • 1 Business Forum Pass for BIO 2020 Convention (value of $2300)
  • 1-year membership to BIOTECanada with access to cost saving business
  • solution programs

Applications Close – March 6, 2020
Finalist Announcement – March 20, 2020
Pitch Presentation – April 1, 2020 at BIONATION in Ottawa, Ontario

For more than 35 years Amgen has been at the forefront of biotechnology innovation including industry leading technologies and therapies to treat grievous illness. As we work to explore the next forefront of therapies and technologies in regenerative medicine area Amgen wants to identify early stage companies (targeted for Seed, Series A) developing innovative technologies and programs in this exciting field. Specific areas of interest include:

  • Technologies for non-viral cell transfection
  • Gene editing tools to create universal host for allogeneic cells
  • Tools to measure cell surface markers
  • Closed processing Tools (not significant bottleneck)


  • Wondering what to submit? It’s easy!
  • Your company’s mission
  • The targeted market/patient population
  • Description of your technology and the game changing innovation it will
  • bring
  • Upcoming key milestones (including financing)
  • Commercialization strategy
  • Management team and scientific advisory board members
  • CEO must be available to present on April 1, 2020 in Ottawa, Ontario
Posted in News

Call for Expressions of Interest – Atlantic Canada Mission to BIO 2020, San Diego, CA

The Prince Edward Island BioAlliance, on behalf of the Atlantic Canada Bio-Industries Alliance (ACBA), is seeking companies to participate in the Atlantic Canada delegation to the BIO 2020 International Convention and Trade Show taking place in San Diego, CA, June 8–11, 2020.

BIO 2020 is an opportunity for Atlantic Canada bio-businesses to connect to strategic partners from around the globe, as well as showcase Atlantic Canada’s growing strengths in the biotechnology industry. Atlantic Canada will be a featured exhibitor in the Canada Pavilion.

Your participation in the Mission to BIO 2020 will include:

  • Complimentary Exhibitor Badge Registration
  • Complimentary Exhibitor Business Partnering pass (1 per company – Allocated on a first come-first serve basis) 
  • Access to pre-conference webinar that will provide planning and coaching
  • Access to meeting space within the Canada Pavilion
  • Company profile listed on all Atlantic Canada marketing materials
  • Inclusion in the Canada Directory at BIO
  • Invitation to the Taste of Atlantic Canada Reception,an increasingly popular, and “must attend” event at BIO on Tuesday, June 9.
  • Opportunity to present in the Canada Coast to Coast Company Competition
  • Inclusion in Federal/Provincial Roundtable meeting (if applicable)
  • Pre-conference and on-site support

New for 2020!

ACBA has engaged Betsy Bascom, CEO, Global Connectworks to work with five (5) Atlantic Canadian early stage companies (as determined by ACBA) to help them increase visibility, profile and success and optimize participation at the BIO 2020 event. Global Connectworks will work with selected companies, in advance of the convention, to identify targeted strategic partners and companies to meet while at the event. This will include guidance with meeting schedule management and how to prepare and approach potential partners to ensure you get the right meetings and connect with targeted companies.

Please complete the BIO 2020 Application by CLICKING HERE and return it to us by March 1, 2020. The Participation Fee per organization is $650 CAD (plus applicable tax).

In partnership with:

  • Government of Nova Scotia
  • Government of New Brunswick
  • Government of Prince Edward Island
  • Government of Canada
Posted in Conferences, Events