Pheromite Limited (“Pheromite”) is developing a novel treatment for Varroa destructor (“Varroa”) mites, the main pest of honeybees. Varroa is one of the main causes responsible for beehives losses worldwide. Varroa affects both larvae and adult bees by consuming their hemolymph, the insect equivalent to blood, and through facilitating the spread of bee viruses. Varroa has become a substantial issue in North America, South America, Europe and New Zealand. Beekeepers in the United States who do not use Varroa control products reported 47% beehive colony deaths a year. Although beehive colony losses decrease to 34% for those who utilise control products, for beekeepers this is still an unacceptably high percentage of beehive losses.
The current worldwide market for Varroa treatments has been estimated at $440 million per annum. Pheromite anticipates that should it develop an effective treatment, it could address a worldwide market which may be worth up to NZ$826 million per annum.
Current treatments are inadequate as Varroa mites have developed resistance and therefore no longer reduce colony loss to acceptable levels in some regions such as the US and parts of Europe. These treatments can be divided into two classes, organic and synthetic. Organic treatments are labour intensive, require multiple applications and are unreliable. Initially, synthetic treatments were beekeepers’ silver bullet, however Varroa mites have developed resistance, rendering many synthetic miticides ineffective, in particular in the US and Europe. As the mite develops resistance to synthetic chemicals in New Zealand, colony losses will increase.
Synthetic miticide treatments can also result in the contamination of honey. Many jurisdictions have strict regulations which are aimed at preventing the contamination of honey products. Previously four honey products from New Zealand producers were found to contain unacceptably high amounts of amitraz (a synthetic control product) following tests carried out by a Hong Kong regulatory authority, which created local consumer concern.
To address these issues, Pheromite is developing a new treatment system which it expects will be easy to use, cost effective, consistently effective and safe for beekeepers and bees.
Pheromite is developing a novel solution to treat Varroa. This comprises the development of two components:
- A novel therapy to interact with and affect Varroa’s receptors, influencing their behaviour. This technology is expected to work by disrupting Varroa’s life-cycle or deterring them from entering beehives.
- An automatic delivery system that controls the Varroa mite, initially through the use of a proprietary formulation of organic miticdes, and eventually utilising a novel therapy which Pheromite is developing.
Pheromite, founded in January 2016, set out to identify Varroa’s receptors and anticipates completing this milestone within 2 months. Upon identification of a receptor, Pheromite will undertake a rational compound discovery process in which potential compounds are screened to determine if they can affect the receptor. Furthermore, Pheromite has also completed the design of the delivery system, for which it has filed a provisional patent.
Dr Pablo German, Founding Director, is the Chief Technical Officer. He has experience in the study of insects through his doctoral studies which explored the molecular mechanisms of the sense of smell in insects. His experience includes being Research Manager at Comvita, the world’s largest producer of Manuka honey.
Brent Ogilvie, Executive Director, has extensive life science commercialisation experience, specifically in venture development and investment, including the early funding formation of New Zealand diabetes (ASX:LCT), multiple sclerosis (ASX:IIL) and cystic fibrosis (Breathe Easy Limited) drug development companies.
Brett Oliver, Director, has 10+ years’ experience in commercialisation & innovation activities. Roles included composite materials engineering, venture capital due-diligence, commercial and property finance, technology auditor and advisor at KPMG, commercialisation manager at NZ’s largest research organisation, and North Island Manager of Commercialisation, NZ national health innovation initiative.