UW Student Story: SpayVac provide efficient, effective vaccines to control wildlife populations

UW Student Story: SpayVac provide efficient, effective vaccines to control wildlife populations

By Leonardo Barolo-Gargiulo


Wildlife management has becoming increasingly complicated. How can we manage wildlife population in a cost-effective and humane way? The answer might lie in birth control vaccines, according to the founders of SpayVac-For-Wildlife Inc.

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

Not only does overpopulation damage the overpopulated animals, but it also negatively effects the ecosystem they are part of by reducing its 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 animal-vehicle collisions. SpayVac works on controlling not only deer population, but also other animals where overpopulation is not that obvious, such as seals, elephants, burros 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.

Culling and relocation are very 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.

It is much 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. Fitchburg-based SpayVac will make those doses even less frequent.

The birth control vaccines currently in the market require annual doses of vaccine administration, which results in multiple expenses and dealing with difficult access to the animals, which is the hardest part of the whole process. SpayVac is changing that by introducing vaccines that will last for at least five years without boosters.

SpayVac is so effective due to its patented, proprietary nanoparticle delivery system – VacciMax  – which was originally developed to increase the effectiveness of human cancer vaccines. It is also very practical: it comes in frozen, ready-to-inject syringes, while the competitors require extensive on-site mixing in order to create an emulsion prior to application.

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

SpayVac aims to help clients from all over the world, 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 will present as part of the “Diligent Dozen” in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which is part of the June 4-5 Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee.

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