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TyraTech ‘Putting Nature to Work’ with Safe Insect, Parasite Controls

By Barry Teater, NCBiotech Writer

Serendipity, not necessity, is often the mother of invention in science.

Such was the case with TyraTech, a small Morrisville company that has parlayed a simple observation made in a cancer research lab into a growing business of controlling insects and parasites without the use of synthetic pesticides.

It all began at Vanderbilt University’s Ingram Cancer Center more than a decade ago. Researchers there noticed that some of the essential oils they were using in their cancer experiments were apparently repelling nearby insects in the lab while others were not.

This unintentional discovery triggered further investigation of the plant-based oils to better understand and exploit their natural insecticidal and repellent properties. TyraTech was formed to develop commercial applications for human and animal health.

In the beginning, TyraTech’s strategy was to license technology for commercialization by established partners. In 2014 the company decided to shift that model to take the technology through product development and all the way to the retail shelf on its own. That allowed TyraTech to test the value of the technology directly with the consumer.

The company’s first product line, branded as Vamousse, is a range of safe, non-toxic, over-the-counter solutions for controlling head lice in children.

“TyraTech has had great success with Vamousse,” says Bruno Jactel, D.V.M., the company’s chief executive officer.

Vamousse shampoo, mousse and household lice and lice egg treatments are now sold nationally in more than 25,000 stores, including Walmart, Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS Health, and in several thousand stores and pharmacies in the United Kingdom and France.

TyraTech has developed other products including a DEET-free mosquito and tick repellent, marketed as Guardian, that it says has proven to be more effective than 15 percent solutions of DEET. Guardian products are sold nationally and in the U.K. and France.

More recently TyraTech has developed a fly control for poultry and a control for the northern fowl mite, a blood-sucking parasite that plagues poultry flocks. The products have undergone field trials with poultry and swine producers this year and are being sold under the PureScience brand with TyraTech’s partner, MWI Animal Health, the nation’s largest distributor of animal health products.

TyraTech has also developed a non-toxic equine fly spray, called OutSmart, for horses and riders. The spray, designed to repel house flies, stable flies, mosquitoes and ticks, is distributed by SmartPak, the nation’s largest online retailer of equestrian products.

‘Putting Nature to Work’

TyraTech’s core technology amplifies the natural insecticide and repellent properties of plant-derived ingredients, as captured by the company’s trademarked tagline, “Putting nature to work.”

“TyraTech has taken these natural properties to a new level by a patented cell-based process to screen and select synergistic ingredients for greater efficacy than can be seen with the natural ingredient alone,” says Jactel. “By combining inert materials that enhance the availability or potency of active ingredients, new levels of effective, but safe, insecticides and repellents have been achieved.”

The company uses ingredients that have been recognized as safe by regulatory agencies in the United States and Europe. Its products target insects and parasites with a combination of chemical and physical actions.

The physical action often involves compromising the exoskeleton of an insect and causing osmotic stress or other disruption to internal systems, resulting in death, Jactel explains.

The chemical action relies on targeting the cellular receptor for tyramine, a neurotransmitter. Blocking the receptor is believed to alter the chemical responses of insects, preventing basic neurological functions. 

TyraTech has more than 60 granted or pending patents for its technology and product formulations.

‘A Better Way’

The company’s alternatives to synthetic pesticides appear to have a promising future in a world seeking greener solutions to health and agricultural problems.

An estimated 10 quintillion insects inhabit the earth (that’s 10 followed by 18 zeros), or about 1.3 billion insects for every human. While many are beneficial to our existence, others cause serious diseases and economic losses.

Close to a billion pounds of chemical pesticides are used annually around the globe to combat these pests, TyraTech says. Meanwhile, insects, and the other class of creepy-crawlies called acarids, which includes spiders, mites, scorpions and ticks, are developing resistance to many traditional synthetic pesticides. That's leading to a risk of chemical pesticide overuse, high toxicity and environmental damage.

“We believe there is a better way,” TyraTech’s website says. “We believe there can be effective control of insects and the risks they pose without compromising safety. Because they are plant-derived, our products are safe for humans, animals and the environment. They offer true alternatives to traditional pesticides.”

The company estimates the “addressable” global market for human and animal applications to be $7.8 billion.

“Our focus will grow toward the opportunities we see in animal health, especially animal agriculture, as we head into 2017,” Jactel says.

An International Presence

Founded in 2004, TyraTech moved to Morrisville from Melbourne, Fla., in 2011 “to take advantage of the Research Triangle Park with biotechnology and ag connections and partnership potential, strong university support, and well-known concentration of scientific minds and a great pool of highly skilled professionals,” Jactel says.

When the relocation was announced, TyraTech’s non-executive chairman at the time, Alan Reade, also cited Morrisville’s proximity to North Carolina State University, “which has strong programs in entomology and veterinary sciences, which we hope to draw upon as we expand.”

The company, which outsources its manufacturing and sales, has 18 employees in Morrisville and one in the United Kingdom.

TyraTech has been listed on AIM, the London Stock Exchange’s market for smaller growing companies, since 2007.

“In 2007, TyraTech had strong connections with U.K. investors who believed in the future of the company,” Jactel explains. “Beyond this, TyraTech has global investors and a growing international presence.”

TyraTech reported $7.4 million in gross revenue in 2015 and is on pace to surpass that in 2016. Gross revenue for the first six months of 2016 was $4.1 million.

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