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MSD Aquaculture R&D Laboratory Adopts New Name, Sharpens Product Development Focus

10 September 2012

SINGAPORE - A research and development laboratory that has significantly contributed to the rapid growth of warmwater aquaculture health over the past 12 years has changed its name to MSD Animal Health Innovation Pte. Ltd. The new name reflects the laboratory’s parent company, MSD Animal Health (known as Merck Animal Health in the United States and Canada), which is the world’s leading developer of vaccines and pharmaceuticals for aquaculture and is the animal health business of MSD, a global healthcare leader.

The 9,000-square meter research facility is the Asia-Pacific region’s only research laboratory specializing in warmwater aquaculture. It was previously known as Intervet Norbio Singapore Pte. Ltd., which along with Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health was acquired by MSD in 2009. Since 2000, the laboratory has accumulated more than 2,300 bacterial strains plus 16 viral isolates of pathogens and 20 cell lines. This has already led to the development and commercialization of eight vaccines for temperate and warm-water fish species. “We have been adding to our knowledge base of diseases and epidemiology,” said Siow Foong Chang, R&D manager at the Singapore research facility.

Not just for Asia

This enhanced understanding of aquatic animal diseases has also benefited Latin America and other producers of warmwater fish. “Fish are cold-blooded and each species has an optimal temperature range at which they can be cultured economically,” noted Luc Grisez, director aquaculture R&D at MSD Animal Health.

“The optimal temperature for a fish species is linked to the optimal temperature range for the pathogens affecting that species. Hence, disease agents among tilapia in Asia are similar or identical to the disease agents in Latin America and similar markets. Likewise, pathogens affecting yellowtail in Japan also affect European sea bass, since these species are cultured in similar temperatures.”

According to Grisez, the Singapore facility was designed to conduct research with aquatic species in freshwater, full-strength seawater or anything in-between. In addition, water temperature can be set within a range from 18°C to 34°C.” The laboratory includes 100 tanks, which enables scientists to adjust to virtually all temperate and warm-water aquatic conditions in the world.

Vaccines for warm-water aquaculture

Unlike the livestock industry, which for more than a century has accumulated extensive knowledge of diseases and their effects on performance, there is still “very little information, let alone epidemiology, on aquatic animal diseases in warmwater fish species,” Grisez said. “So, when we opened the laboratory in 2000, the first thing we did was to start collecting samples from fish farms and to develop identification systems for relevant pathogens,” he said.

“I am convinced that our Singapore facility has the best insight of diseases in warmwater aquaculture. There is nothing that comes close to the fully-typed strain collections we have built over the years and the experience we have gained in product development for the different warmwater fish species.”

This R&D effort has paved the way for MSD Animal Health to develop vaccines for warm-water fish, including freshwater species such as tilapia and catfish as well as marine fish such as yellowtail, Asian sea bass (barramundi) and red sea bream. “Diseases have been a bottleneck for expansion of aquaculture in Asia,” Chang said, “and in some markets, there has been an over-reliance on antimicrobials. Vaccination is an important component of the comprehensive, sustainable health programs that are needed to ensure good production performance and profitability.”

Collaboration with AVA

The development of vaccines for warmwater aquaculture has also created demand for diagnostic services, which the Singapore laboratory routinely provided for MSD Animal Health customers. The downside to that trend, however, was that diagnostic services quickly stretched the resources of the R&D facility and interfered with its original mission to develop new products for aquaculture. For this reason, MSD Animal Health Innovation Pte. has recently started collaboration with the Singapore government’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to better serve the aquaculture industry.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Chang explained. “AVA actively supports and facilitates the aquaculture industry. By collaborating with AVA, we can provide our customers with diagnostic services while monitoring trends and devoting more resources to developing new products for aquaculture.” The arrangement, he adds, also allows the company to focus on research and build on its role as the leading developer of vaccines and pharmaceuticals for aquaculture.

For more information about MSD Animal Health and its commitment to aquaculture, go to http://aqua.merck-animal-health.com, email aqua@merck.com or contact your local MSD Animal Health representative.

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