SpayVac using vaccines to control wildlife populations

The founders of SpayVac-for-Wildlife say the answer to the growing problem of wildlife management might lie in birth control vaccines. 

With the constant shrinking of habitats, many wildlife species — even endangered ones — suffer from the effects of overcrowding on their small territories. The overpopulation demands resources the environment often cannot supply. This can lead to not only starvation but also cases like the May 2018 death of nearly 200 wild horses that became stuck in mud as they were searching for water in Arizona.

Not only does overpopulation damage the overpopulated animals, but it also negatively affects their ecosystems by reducing biodiversity, spreading diseases, monopolizing resources and more.

A common example of wildlife overpopulation in North America is deer, which can damage crops, spread diseases and cause collisions between vehicles and animals. Fitchburg-based SpayVac works on controlling not only deer population, but also other animals where overpopulation is not as obvious, such as seals, elephants, donkeys and wild horses. 

Many methods have been used before, such as culling, relocation, surgical sterilization and birth control pills, but birth control vaccines are proving to be the most efficient method, according to the founders of SpayVac. 

Culling and relocation are short-term measures, since removing animals from the population just makes the conditions even better for more reproduction, almost certainly resulting in a rebound population that will fill the gaps that the removed animals left. Culling has an ethical component to it and results in numerous carcasses that change the ecosystem balance by attracting other animals, while relocation depends on farmers to keep and manage the removed wild animals.

The founders of SpayVac claim it’s more ethical and effective to manage a population size by reducing its birth rate. Surgical sterilization is very effective, but also very expensive and time consuming. Oral birth control is less invasive and difficult to execute, but it may interfere with other animal populations since the food source of the animal is often also part of different food chains and requires continuous and frequent doses.

Birth control vaccines, on the other hand, only affects the targeted population and requires less frequent doses. 

The birth control vaccines currently in the market require annual doses of vaccine administration, which can be a costly and difficult process. SpayVac wants to change that by introducing vaccines that will last for at least five years without boosters.

Founders highlight a patented nanoparticle delivery system called VacciMax, originally developed to increase the effectiveness of human cancer vaccines. It comes in frozen, ready-to-inject syringes, while competitors require on-site mixing prior to application, according to the founders. 

The SpayVac team is composed of: Mark Fraker, a wildlife biologist who has worked on birth control vaccines since 1998; Ursula Bechert, a veterinarian and reproductive endocrinologist; Marc Mansour, a manufacturing consultant; and Tom D’Orazio, chief executive officer.

SpayVac aims to work with clients worldwide, including the U.S. government, Native American tribes (such as Navajo and Yakima) and various state entities in Australia and India suffering from wildlife overabundance.

The company presented as part of the “Diligent Dozen” in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which culminated in early June at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee. 

D’Orazio will be a featured panelist today at the Wisconsin Technology Council’s Innovation Network luncheon meeting in Madison. SpayVac will be spotlighted along with UW-Madison researchers studying animal diseases. 

See more on today’s Tech Council event: 

By Leonardo Barolo-Gargiulo 

Barolo is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication