Senecio, an Israeli start-up, has developed cutting-edge technology to combat mosquito-borne diseases. Board member Ralph Breslauer gave Jlife the inside scoop on the innovations on the frontline of the fight against the Zika virus.
Jlife: Mr. Breslauer, thank you for making time to speak with me. Breslauer: My pleasure.
First would you talk about the history of Senecio and the work they’ve done in Israel prior to the global Zika outbreaks? The problem of targeting mosquitoes certainly preceded Zika because of dengue and malaria, and other things. Zika is just getting the most marketing awareness, but it’s just one of many mosquito-born diseases.
I understand Senecio worked with Dynamic Aviation in order to solve a logistical problem involved with releasing mosquitoes from an airplane midflight. Can you tell us about DA, and the relationship between the two organizations? The problem is quite simple. If you release a mosquito from the air, it gets ripped to shreds. But the key issue is, to release sterile mosquitoes in order to attack these diseases, to do that at scale, you must do it from an aircraft. Dynamic Aviation is a provider of aircrafts and Senecio developed the method to release mosquitoes from the air. It’s a perfect partnership because we don’t have planes and they don’t have the technology to release mosquitoes midflight.
What is the relationship between Senecio and the BIRD Foundation? BIRD is great. They support any partnership between Israeli and American companies. Our innovation coming out of Israel plus Dynamic Aviation providing the aircraft was a terrific partnership. We applied for a grant from BIRD, and we were one of, I think, eight companies that got a grant that year, and it’s helped fund our development and accelerated the effort to tackle Zika.
The particular method Senecio developed for releasing mosquitoes from a high-speed aircraft is currently patent-pending. Do you foresee a potential future in which the patent might be voluntarily abandoned by Senecio, if it were deemed necessary to adequately address developing, time-sensitive global emergencies? That’s an interesting question. I don’t think we would abandon the patent, but we have certainly expressed our willingness to come to the table from a commercial perspective to help. I think Senecio will always maintain the patent, but I think there will be cases in which we will contribute our technology to try and help a problem where necessary.
Have any governments or NGOs already contacted Senecio to solicit help combating Zika? Yes, we expect to conduct our first live project, in the field in Brazil, this year. We’re ready to release, and we should hopefully be doing that in November in Brazil.
Assuming that the revolutionary new technology is properly utilized, and Zika is eradicated, what’s next for Senecio? That would be malaria. Malaria is carried by a different mosquito, part of the anopheles family, much more prevalent in Africa and Asia. But Africa would be our next target for malaria, but I think it’s going to take a fair amount of time to really have worldwide suppression of Zika.
Thank you so much for your time Mr. Breslauer. Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know? The innovations coming out of Israel are amazing. Helping Israeli innovation break into the worldwide market has been really fulfilling. I’m excited about that, and I think anytime we can help make an Israeli company successful, we’re just breeding more and more entrepreneurs and there are more and more world-changing inventions coming out of Israel.
Perry Fein is a writer and contributing editor for Jlife.