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Manawatu Agtech Start-Up Raises $900k Seed Investment

A Palmerston North-based start-up company, Koru Diagnostics, has had impressive success with its first funding round.

Koru, which is developing cost-effective laboratory and rapid farmside tests, was substantially oversubscribed when it closed its seed funding round recently with close to a million dollars.

CEO, Rhys McKinlay, is very happy with the outcome. “We raised over $900k, mostly from angel investors, which will give us a commercialisation runway through until late 2019. These funds will be directed towards product development and commercial scale-up, protecting our IP and securing new commercial partnerships,” he says.

The company will also receive R&D funding support via two Callaghan Innovation Project Grants.

Koru’s farmside rapid tests quickly identify the presence of major mastitis-causing bacteria, enabling farmers and vets to make fast, informed decisions on herd management and animal treatment.

“Historically, these are decisions the farmer or their vet would usually need to make on a best-guess basis. In severe cases, guessing incorrectly has significant treatment cost and animal health implications, including permanent reduction in milk output and fertility,” Rhys McKinlay explains.

Mastitis is a common infection of the udder tissue in dairy cattle and represents an estimated $US30 billion global problem for the dairy industry, including around $300 million in treatment costs and production losses in New Zealand alone.

Koru Diagnostics has filed a provisional USA patent for its farmside rapid test, which can detect the presence of specific mastitis bacteria in just 10 minutes, almost 24 hours faster than its nearest rival, and 3-5 days faster than traditional methods. An added advantage is that no special sampling precautions are necessary.

“Koru’s technology is different because it doesn’t rely on culturing or detecting the elusive mastitis bacteria themselves,” Rhys says. “It quickly and accurately detects specific biomarkers in fresh milk samples that are indicative of an infection.”

The company has already attracted commercial interest from multinational animal health, veterinary pathology and herd-testing companies, evidence that Koru’s products are starting to hit the mark.

Chairman, Selwyn Yorke, says commercial-scale trials are ongoing, with the company’s first product launch anticipated in 2019. “Koru has significant future aspirations to use the technology in a number of new industries, but these are under wraps for now, for commercial reasons,” he says.

In the meantime, Rhys McKinlay is confident the future is bright indeed. "I am proud to be part of an innovative, agile company that has attracted significant investment, and we are hugely excited at the prospects ahead for Koru, both in New Zealand and globally."

Koru Diagnostics is a Palmerston North-based biotech start-up based at the Hopkirk Research Institute on the Massey University campus.


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