TOKYO -- A small Japanese biotech company has hit upon a major business opportunity with a soluble tablet that deals death to mosquito larvae.
Kyushu Medical is looking to market the product, called Mosnon, in Indonesia, where the number of dengue fever cases has been rising sharply. Simply drop the tablet in water where mosquitoes lay eggs, and it wipes out over 90% of the larva population. The company says the natural active ingredient is harmless to humans, even when ingested.
Kyushu Medical researchers extracted the key ingredient from a microorganism they unwittingly took from the mangroves of Iriomote Island, off the southwest of Okinawa. A single tablet dissolved in 200 liters of water will remain effective for two to three weeks, the company says. It kills off hatched larvae of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus -- both dengue-carrying types of mosquitoes.
Researchers at Indonesia's Bogor Agricultural University tested the tablet in 200 liters of water containing several hundred mosquito larvae. Sure enough, it killed over 90% within six hours.
Kyushu Medical tried the product itself in 250 households in the Indonesian city of Surabaya. It asked residents to drop Mosnon in their mandi -- outdoor containers used to store rainwater for bathing -- once a week. Mandi are considered a big factor behind dengue in the country.
The larvae were completely eliminated at 99% of the households in two months, according to the company.
How bad is the dengue problem in Indonesia? Kyushu Medical says there were 202,000 patients in 2016, double the 100,000 recorded in 2014.
The company, which is based in the southwestern Japanese city of Kitakyushu, started giving out samples in September. Soon, it plans to begin selling 10- and 200-tablet packages through shops for the equivalent of about 40 yen (35 cents) per tablet.
It is also taking part in a bidding process to select pest-control suppliers for local health bureaus, scheduled to begin this month. If it is chosen, Kyushu Medical aims to start supplying Mosnon across Indonesia during the 2018 monsoon season.
The company has applied to register the product as an insecticide in Singapore and Thailand as well. It aims to supply these markets from a plant in the Indonesian province of West Java, which will have a monthly output capacity of 500,000 tablets.
Though similar products already exist, Kyushu Medical believes Mosnon has the edge. Other anti-mosquito agents, the majority of which are chemical-based, need to be dissolved in small amounts of water before they can be added to larvae-infested water. And while some available products are also natural, the company says they are not as effective.
Next target: Zika
Kyushu Medical hopes local governments will distribute Mosnon to households to complement insecticides sprayed during mosquito-hatching season.
The company is also eyeing the fight against Zika, a virus spreading in Latin America in particular. Some companies in that region have inquired about the product, according to Kyushu Medical.
"The World Health Organization says nearly half of the world's population is exposed to the risk of contracting dengue," Kyushu Medical President Toshitake Hatano said. "We want to help reduce dengue patients worldwide by terminating mosquitoes while they are still larvae."