NORTH CAROLINA BIOTECHNOLOGY CENTER
Much has been written and said about birds of a feather, but soon those plump, juicy holiday birds could be exactly that -- birds partially fattened on feathers.An emerging agricultural biotechnology company, assisted at its inception by loans from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, has developed an environmentally friendly, nutritional use for the feathers that otherwise might be wasted or relegated to other duty, such as insulating fireside comforters and pillows.
BioResource International Inc. (BRI), a closely held technology spinout of North Carolina State University, celebrated a commercial milestone last week with a shipment to Thailand of a 5.5-ton container of Valkerase(TM), its patented powdered enzyme that helps turn feathers into a digestible and nutritious poultry feed additive.Giles Shih, Ph.D., president of the five-employee, 7-year-old company, said it was the first order in what's expected to total more than 50 tons a year to one of the largest poultry producers in Thailand.
The Biotechnology Center helped get the company started with successive loans in 2000 and 2001 - a $10,000 loan from its Business Development Awards program, followed by a $30,000 Collaborative Funding Assistance loan.BRI has also been helped by federal small business loans and has raised more than $2.7 million in venture capital and private equity financing. BRI originated in the Technology Incubator on the North Carolina State University Centennial Campus, where it remained until this summer, when it moved into new office and laboratory space here.
While the market for Valkerase(TM) is primarily overseas, BRI's flagship product, Versazyme(TM), is a natural enzyme poultry feed additive that has interested U.S. producers. Shih said it is in commercial trials with several large U.S. poultry producers and will be officially launched next spring."Our focus is on harnessing the natural power of enzymes to address unique agricultural and industrial concerns," explained Shih, who co-founded BRI with his father, Dr. Jason Shih, a professor of biotechnology and poultry science at NCSU and the inventor of BRI's enzyme products.Valkerase(TM) is added to cooked poultry feathers to help break down the otherwise waste protein material into a digestible feather meal that in turn can be used as a safe, nutritional animal feed ingredient, said Shih.
Recycling the poultry feathers into feed via the enzyme is especially attractive to Asian poultry producers, he said, because basic feed grains are relatively more expensive there than in the United States -- though the imbalance is dwindling."Not so long ago corn was $2 a bushel in the U.S.," he said. "Now, as more of it gets diverted for bioethanol production, it's as high as $4 a bushel. Prices for other feed crops such as soybeans have also risen. Because poultry diets in the U.S. consist mainly of corn and soybeans, our enzyme products are becoming more attractive to U.S. poultry producers as they look for ways to grow bigger birds with less feed."Today's broiler chickens are bred to grow very efficiently, he said.
They usually require about two pounds of feed for each pound of growth. It takes about six weeks to grow a typical bird to market size. North Carolina is among the nation's top five broiler producers, he noted, and America's second-largest turkey producer."This milestone for BRI is exactly the kind of outcome we have been nurturing in creative young North Carolina biotechnology companies for nearly a quarter-century," said Ken Tindall, the Biotechnology Center's senior vice president, science & business development.
"This kind of success is incredibly difficult to come by, and we are delighted to have been able to have a hand in it.""We are trying to meet specific needs in a fast-growing niche of the agriculture industry," said Shih, "using enzymes to add value to products. It's been called 'green chemistry,' because we are using natural products in industrial processes to improve efficiency and reduce pollution.
"Current sales are "just chicken feed," he joked. But this product alone is helping to redefine the concept of leftovers. And like many young biotechnology companies across North Carolina, BRI is finally able to start cashing in after years of patient struggle.The Biotechnology Center is a private, non-profit corporation supported by the N.C. General Assembly. Its mission is to provide long-term economic and societal benefits to North Carolina by supporting biotechnology research, business and education statewide.