Turning AgTech into agricultural, veterinary solutions: a profile of Roslin Tech
If you want to be in show business, you move to Los Angeles; to be an investment banker, maybe New York; for fashion, it’s Paris. And for the most cutting-edge agricultural science, the place to be is Midlothian in Scotland, where you will find the headquarters of Roslin Technologies, a commercial joint venture with the University of Edinburgh, whose Roslin Institute created Dolly the Sheep.
For a company that’s focused on serving the needs of the agricultural and veterinary sectors, it’s ideally placed, right at the heart of the Midlothian Science Zone, home of several cutting-edge animal science research institutes and the world-famous Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, SRUC and Moredun Research Institute. Indeed, the aim of Roslin Technologies is to take ground-breaking technology that’s developed by academics and scientists and to translate it to the real world, solving problems for farmers, the food industry and vets. The Science Zone itself is nestled just where you’d want to place those working in this area, behind Edinburgh’s Pentland Hills among fields and livestock.
“The location is ideal,” says Prof. Jacqui Matthews, Chief Technology Officer who, like many other employees, has a long track record in animal science. “We are based at the heart of one of the largest campuses focusing on animal science, globally, and, in particular, through our close relationship with the adjacent Roslin Institute.”
More importantly, the company is taking things to a new level, embarking on a £50 million capital raise at the same time as it broadens its strategy, reaching out to partners around the world to access the best-in-class technology in its chosen areas. Helping with the fundraise are long time shareholders, JBI Equity and Milltrust International LLP, leading agricultural science investors and experts.
By taking IP created locally and combining that with the right expertise that it identifies elsewhere, the company can create solutions that target the needs of the global farming, agricultural and veterinary sectors. What that means in practice is developing the science of sustainable protein, a mission that has three key strands:
First, there’s the issue of making agriculture more efficient in how it manages livestock for the food chain. The company is working with some of the most respected pig breeders globally, to evaluate and improve their stock, looking to reduce levels of disease while at the same time producing animals more closely suited to the needs of farmers.
Second, the company is making the food chain more robust by tackling serious illnesses that livestock face. It’s developing proprietary cutting-edge stem cell technology in order to address infectious pig diseases. Concurrently, it’s working on a breakthrough vaccine vehicle that uses a harmless parasite to deliver vaccines to sheep and goats, while it’s also developing a vaccine for a type of E. coli that can be transmitted to humans. The company is also investing in a diagnostic test for trypanosomosis, a devastating disease facing farmers of livestock and equids in sub-Saharan Africa and South America. The company’s stem cell technology is also being exploited to support the development of therapies for important diseases of companion animals such as canine diabetes.
The third strand is in the development of new and alternative ways to produce protein. The aforementioned pig stem cells can be used to create artificial meat, while the company is just about to embark on an innovative programme of utilising insects for animal feed. As part of that, it has recently invested in Protenga, a groundbreaking Singapore-based business that grows black soldier fly to produce animal feed and fertiliser.
“Insects are a mainstay of food and feeding in many parts of the globe,” according to CEO Glen Illing, who travels the world looking for partners with a matching aptitude for cutting-edge AgTech. “This is just the start of a journey for us in this area.”
The company is in the process of building a genetic nucleus facility for invertebrates. There, Roslin Tech genetic science experts are looking to develop fly lines with particular attributes, such as high protein and fat content. For a company that effortlessly ticks off many sustainability factors, the project is true to form; growing insects uses less water, space, energy and time than other food sources.
“Luckily for us, everything we do is already about sustainability, about making things better for the world in which we live,’’ Glen Illing says.