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Aquaculture diagnostics company earns £1.2 million investment

WellFish Diagnostics, a spinout company from the University of West Scotland (UWS), is poised to transform aquaculture's diagnostic practices with a new £1.2 million investment from UWS, Kelvin Capital and Scottish Enterprise.

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
7 March 2022, at 9:31am
headshot with lab equipment
Professor Brian Quinn developed a non-lethal method for examining fish health

WellFish is set to upend health diagnostic practices in the £245 billion global aquaculture sector. Traditional fish health testing can take days before producing results and often requires lethal sampling. WellFish – the second spin-out company to emerge from UWS – has established a method to enable fish farmers to continually monitor the health of their fish population via blood sampling, in a unique approach developed by the company in conjunction with the salmon farming industry in Scotland.

CEO Brian Quinn, a Professor of Ecotoxicology within the School of Health and Life Sciences at UWS, is a two-time Converge Challenge finalist and winner of the 2019 European Aquaculture Society Innovation Forum.

He said: “WellFish presents a huge opportunity for the aquaculture sector to completely transform its practices for monitoring, responding to and predicting health challenges within the fish population. Traditionally, fish farmers would have to undertake a slower sampling and testing process, often requiring fish to be euthanised prior to sampling, to monitor fish health within their farms.”

The company is working with the entire Scottish salmon sector, a large trout farm, and producers in Ireland and Norway to provide fish farmers with technology and training to take their own samples, which are then sent to WellFish for testing. The company is based in a state-of-the-art laboratory at UWS’s Paisley campus.

Professor Quinn added: “We are the first-ever laboratory to offer a non-lethal method of examining fish health commercially. When fish farmers take their samples - which they are shown how to do using our kits and specialist training - they are then sent back to us in the laboratory where the data is interpreted using an algorithm-based AI model and presented back to farmers within 24 hours via our specialist website portal.

“It means farmers can make data-informed husbandry decisions, spot the early onsets of a potential health challenge and take proactive measures to reduce the impact, such as choosing to change feeding regimes or introducing early treatment to their fish populations.

“Our company also enables farmers - and the wider aquaculture sector - to access our data and spot trends emerging over time, meaning we are also contributing directly to crucial knowledge transfer about fish health management practices within the sector and beyond. In this way, the farmers can provide their stock with the best health and welfare environments to the benefit of all parties.”

Professor Milan Radosavljevic, Vice-Principal, Research, Innovation & Engagement at UWS, said: “WellFish Diagnostics is a fantastic example of the pioneering research and innovation taking place at our University and highlights our commitment to supporting enterprise at UWS.

“I am delighted to see the team secure investment to create a spin-out company, which is testament to the team’s hard work and strong links with industry. It is inspiring to see the real-world benefits and impact WellFish Diagnostics will have on a truly global scale on health, welfare and sustainability within the aquaculture sector.”

The WellFish Diagnostics team is made up of six people, including key experts from the aquaculture industry, such as former Managing Director at Marine Harvest Scotland and Skretting UK, Dr Graeme Dear, as well as John Allan, former executive vice-president and CTO of healthcare diagnostics company, Quotient.

Group photo
The WellFish Diagnostics team

WellFish is the result of an initial research and development project supported by the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), the UK Seafood Innovation Fund and Scottish Enterprise’s High Growth Spinout Programme. This research has also received funding from Innovate UK, Kelvin Capital, as well as cash and in-kind contributions from sector partners. The company has plans for rapid, international growth, with expansion into Norway in 2022 and further expansion into South America and Canada by 2023.