Oxitec Ltd. plans to build its first centralized Friendly™ Aedes egg production unit, with the capacity to generate one billion mosquito eggs per week, in Oxfordshire, UK. Oxitec is a wholly owned subsidiary of Intrexon Corporation. Intrexon will invest $9.5 million in Oxitec’s new production unit in Oxfordshire, in addition to the $182 million investment since Intrexon acquired the Oxford University spinout in 2015. The operation is anticipated to create 75 new jobs.
“Intrexon is proud to announce, alongside Prime Minister Theresa May, this increased investment in Oxitec, UK, by building a state-of-the-art mosquito egg production facility,” said Randal J. Kirk, Intrexon’s Chairman and CEO. “Oxitec’s solution will revolutionize how societies confront public health challenges posed by invasive mosquitoes that transmit devastating diseases. We are delighted to celebrate this announcement, which further enables our global expansion plans, with the UK’s Head of State.”
This facility will enable egg shipments to various locations across the globe, where they will be reared and then released as part of Oxitec’s environmentally-responsible Friendly™ Aedes programs to suppress Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the primary vector of Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. The new UK facility will deliver a 20-fold increase in Oxitec’s existing egg production to support increasing global demand for Aedes aegypti control programs to reduce wild populations worldwide.
“This investment is a reflection of the increasing interest and traction we are now seeing for Oxitec’s Friendly™ Aedes programs, and represents a new phase in the company’s development,” said Mark Carnegie-Brown, Oxitec CEO. “Oxitec’s technology represents a paradigm change in combating dangerous Aedes aegypti that threaten more than half of the world’s population, and this factory will better position us to help countries in need of superior solutions in the fight against this invasive mosquito that carries Zika, dengue and other harmful viruses.”
Over 725,000 people are killed by a mosquito bite each year. Dengue fever infects approximately 400 million people annually, causing an enormous health and economic burden in affected countries. Recently, there has been an increasing number of cases of the deadly yellow fever virus in the Americas. Additionally, the past few years have seen the emergence of chikungunya and Zika in the Western Hemisphere.
These viruses have devastating consequences including microcephaly, Guillain-Barré syndrome, encephalitis and a variety of other serious health disorders. In the U.S. alone nearly 1,300 pregnant women from 44 states had lab evidence of possible Zika virus infection in 2016, including 77 reported pregnancy losses and 51 babies born with birth defects such as microcephaly and brain abnormalities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).¹
“For the first time, we can target our enemy with surgical precision at scale without impacting the environment, beneficial insects, or human health, unlike conventional vector control methods,” said Lieutenant General (Retired) Thomas Bostick, PhD, PE, Senior Vice President and Head of Intrexon’s Environment Sector. “Oxitec and Intrexon are committed to developing strategies and delivering concrete solutions that benefit people and communities around the world. This new mosquito egg production unit is a critical step toward meeting our objective in supporting governments around the world in their fight against Aedes aegypti and the diseases they transmit.”
Oxitec has been working in Aedes aegypti control for over a decade and pioneered the use of a biological method to suppress wild populations of this dangerous mosquito species through the release of Friendly™ Aedes males, which do not bite and do not transmit diseases. When released, these males search for wild females to mate, and their offspring inherit a self-limiting gene that causes them to die before reaching functional adulthood. Friendly™ Aedes’ offspring also inherit a fluorescent marker that allows tracking and monitoring at a level never before achieved, making the assessment of effectiveness more accurate throughout the whole Friendly™ Aedes deployment program. Unlike other approaches, Friendly™ Aedes mosquitoes die along with their offspring, and therefore do not persist in the environment or leave any ecological footprint.
¹ Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 7 April 2017. 66(13);366-373.