ImmuCell Corp. of Portland has purchased the rights to an alternative method of delivering its medicine that prevents diarrhea in newborn calves.

The medicine, called First Defense, is made of antibodies found in nursing cows’ milk. It has traditionally been administered orally via a 2-inch-long pill, or bolus, which is inserted into the calf’s pharynx using a device called a balling gun, the company said Wednesday.

The alternative method involves a gel-like paste version of the medicine that is administered orally using a large plastic syringe. ImmuCell said the gel form is especially popular among beef farmers. Newborn beef calves remain with their mothers, which are very protective and don’t like to see balling guns being stuck down their babies’ throats.

In the dairy industry, newborn calves are separated immediately from their mothers, which makes using the balling guns a non-issue. But Michael Brigham, ImmuCell’s president and CEO, said some dairy farmers still prefer the more expensive gel form.

“You just open the mouth up, deliver the paste in, and you’re done,” he said.

First Defense contains a concentrated form of antibody-rich colostrum, milk produced in late pregnancy. It can be fed to newborn calves to help prevent scours, which causes diarrhea and dehydration. It is a natural product made from cow’s milk that is approved for organic farming.

ImmuCell hired a Minnesota-based veterinary consulting firm called DAY 1 to develop the gel version in 2012, Brigham said. Its initial agreement was that DAY 1 would retain the rights to the gel itself and manufacture it for First Defense, which is developed and owned by ImmuCell.

The company assumed that the gel version would be a niche product, but Brigham said it has become so popular that ImmuCell wanted to ensure its ability to make and sell it in the future. The company also is seeking U.S. Department of Agriculture certification for the gel, which it already has received for the bolus.

To purchase the rights from DAY 1, ImmuCell signed an agreement that involves making contingency payments to the seller over the next three years. Brigham estimated that the total compensation would range from $350,000 to $550,000.

“We basically bought the recipe,” he said.

The bolus remains the most popular form of First Defense, Brigham said. It is less expensive and ensures that 100 percent of the medication is administered – a calf either swallows the bolus or spits it out, in which case the farmer tries again. With the gel, it is possible for a calf to spit out some of the gel and not get the full dosage, he said.

ImmuCell is one of a handful of publicly held companies based in Maine. It trades on the Nasdaq exchange under the symbol ICCC. The company had a banner year in 2015, with sales up 40 percent from 2014 and its share price up 47 percent in value from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. It was the best-performing Maine-based stock in 2015. Net income for the relatively small company for the first three quarters of 2015 was $924,000, and revenue was $7.5 million.

Widespread drought across the U.S. that has boosted the price of cattle contributed to ImmuCell’s recent growth, along with increased sales efforts, Brigham has said.

ImmuCell is hoping for even bigger sales in the future. It is in the final stages of developing another all-natural product called Mast Out that will help prevent and treat mastitis – an inflammatory disease of the breast that affects lactating cows.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

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